One oft-overlooked element of a stable long-term relationship is the agreement between partners about the desire to have kids or not. Overlooked probably because the assumption is that everybody would want them (it’s only natural), but this isn’t always the case. It is still a bit of a taboo subject, and habitually frowned upon when the choice to not have offspring is expressed (especially by women), but it is important to see eye to eye with your partner, and preferably very early on. If not, you can end up in a situation like in Yuval Hadadi’s debut feature 15 Years. Even while situated in a gay relationship and with the protagonist having specific reasons for being put off by the idea of fathering a child, Hadadi’s film gives good insight into how this question can loom large over a couple’s future. It’s compelling subject matter that isn’t often visited in cinema, perhaps because of the social stigma. In Hadadi’s hands it is not quite taken to its full potential, but 15 Years has just enough of an emotional pull to not fall completely under the radar.
Yoav (Oded Leopold) and his slightly younger partner Dan (Udi Persi) have been in a seemingly happy relationship for fifteen years. But when Yoav’s best friend Alma (Ruti Asarsai) announces her pregnancy to the world without telling him, with whom she normally shares everything, his first reaction is less than enthusiastic. When Alma’s pregnancy triggers a desire in Dan to be a father, Yoav’s tightly controlled life starts to come apart at the seams. Haunted by demons from his own past, Yoav goes down a spiral of self-destructive behavior that puts his relationship with Dan and his friendship with Alma at risk.
15 Years‘ strength lies firmly in its subject matter and the nuanced treatment the screenplay gives it. Effectively a three-hander, the film juxtaposes Yoav and Dan through Alma’s understanding of both sides. Presenting Yoav as such an unlikable protagonist is a bold choice, certainly considering his unreasonable demeanor in the first act. Leopold’s hulking, brooding figure and stern facial features further distance the audience from Yoav, but then slowly pull them in again as secrets from his past are revealed. Perhaps not enough to fully absolve his behavior towards Dan and Alma, but his motivations are clear.
The problem with the film is that it is a bit flat. Hadadi is clearly still trying to find his voice, even though the way he manages to paint in a lot of backstory with little exposition is quite impressive. Visually, however, 15 Years is a little too polished and nondescript to make much of an impression, and some choices in the score are odd, making some scenes play out as if they were from a thriller. The three main actors all deliver solid work, with Leopold in particular a standout. In the end, 15 Years is an interesting film if the subject matter speaks to you, and Hadadi shows talent, but it is perhaps a little too low-key for its own good.