Berlinale 2021 review: All Eyes Off Me (Hadas Ben Aroya)

All Eyes Off Me presents itself as an interesting affair from the very beginning. Constructed in three episodes, each one reveals the truths of a young generation full of life, desire, and most of all unreliability when it comes to being open and vulnerable. With her second feature, Hadas Ben Aroya is even more confident of her directorial perspective.

The film starts with Danny (played by the startling Hadar Katz), who is looking to share her recent pregnancy news with Max (Leib Lev Levin), father of her child. The commencement is all about her as she keeps tracking him at a party filled with common friends. It is when she finally meets him that she learns of the existence of Avishag, his new romantic interest whom he just started dating. She immediately senses his new engrossing attachment for her and although she is visibly shocked, Danny warns him that flames should eventually die with the passage of time. This first episode is a party, both literally and figuratively. A party to the senses, as it is competently shot by Meidan Arama, but it is also a sensational way to start a film dealing with the interpersonal links of today’s Israeli youth.

In the second segment things get especially enthralling with the introduction of the main character, the young and independent Avishag (Elisheva Weil). This chapter features one of the most sexually tense sequences in cinema this year as Avishag and Max share secrets from the past, discuss possible new erotic experiments and shower each other with adulation. The chemistry of the two actors is startling, and this comes as no surprise knowing that they form a couple in real life. Their offscreen relationship gives the director full freedom to go all the way and present the couple in their most raw and bare conditions. One can feel the voyeurism here, but it is a quality in itself as it allows the audience to be really part of the room and feel every tension and confession.

Ben Aroya then shifts to her final installment when Dror (Yoav Hait) asks Avishag to take care of his dog for the day. Dror is a rich and much older man who sparks a delightful connection with Avishag the morning after she oversleeps in his big, gracious home. A conversation that leads to an awakening that shapes the whole basis of the film.

When extravagant youth is represented in arts, it usually comes with its numerous irreplaceable gadgets. From drugs and confused feelings to drastic sexual experiments, all of it is displayed throughout the film’s short runtime. But it is the different eclectic uses of music that stand out the most. Françoise Hardy’s Message Personnel in particular is featured as a foreplay instrument in one of the best scenes of the film. Christina Aguilera’s Hurt is also used in a show audition to which Avishag reacts strongly while watching it on her smartphone screen. This small screen is another permanent device in the film that speaks a great deal about the character’s uptight personal space.

All Eyes Off Me is a daring film on a generation of youth questioning its compass. Hadas Ben Aroya made a film that starts flashily only to reach a calm and susceptible conclusion by raising numerous admirable questions. Does intimacy come best with full entitlement or is it almost always embodied as a jolly good time where we let go of ourselves to test our boundaries? Or is it only found when we reach the state of being ourselves without any emotional shielding?