Director Oren Carmi‘s debut feature, Goldberg & Eisenberg, is an impressive genre-bending piece of cinema which functions primarily as a serious thriller, yet contains a darkly comedic edge that sets it apart from similar works in the stalker/horror genre. Carmi’s style has been repeatedly compared to that of the Coen Brothers – one of the his admitted influences – and while this comparison is certainly warranted, the Israeli writer/director has undoubtedly crafted something that is original and unique, with a distinct cinematic voice that is wholly his own. Taking full advantage of the humour that exists within awkward social interactions, and employing characters that are both simplistic and surprisingly enigmatic, Carmi walks a fine line down an increasingly dark path, balancing the bleak with just enough lightness to make the ride a fun one. Despite its story being extremely small in scope – right down to the somewhat anticlimactic finale – Goldberg & Eisenberg remains a strong debut for the first-time director, who has earned our attention as a new talent worth keeping an eye on.
Goldberg (Yitzhak Laor) is a computer programmer who lives alone with his dog, and spends the majority of his time scouring online dating sites in search of a woman. One evening while waiting for a blind date at his local park, he is approached by Eisenberg (Yahav Gal), an abrasive slob who tells him a dirty joke and attempts (rather forcefully) to befriend him. Sensing that something is off about the man, Goldberg responds coldly and leaves. Following this encounter, Eisenberg begins popping up rather frequently in Goldberg’s life – as well as his nightmares – often delivering passive-aggressive threats amidst thinly-veiled attempts at friendship or romance, all of which are rejected by an increasingly anxious Goldberg. When the police refuse to take his complaints seriously, Goldberg is forced to take matters into his own hands, causing things to quickly escalate and then spiral out of control, and throwing the lives of both men into jeopardy.
For a debut feature, Goldberg & Eisenberg feels surprisingly refined in its style and approach, as if Carmi had already been doing this for a long time. The film contains some phenomenal cinematography, with a hazy look that makes great use of shadow and negative space to isolate subjects within a void of darkness or uncertainty, as well as some fascinating tracking shots from the 3rd-person perspective which function almost as P.O.V. shots in their subjective movements and restricted range of vision. This visual style is accompanied by a somewhat eclectic musical score, which contains a few odd choices yet complements the film rather well. The performances are what really make this film click though, and Yahav Gal stands out with a brilliant turn as the quirky and frightening Eisenberg, who remains an enigma with a constant air of uncertainty surrounding his actions. Yitzhak Laor does an admirable job as Goldberg as well, despite having a character who is far less fun to watch; and I also really enjoyed Ronny Dotan as Noa, Goldberg’s sort-of girlfriend who has a great little supporting role.
The film keeps its on-screen violence to a few small, visceral bursts, with one scene in particular causing my jaw to drop out of pure shock and surprise. That being said, the ending felt like a bit of a letdown in the grand scheme of the story, and is fairly easy to predict (not the specifics so much as the outcome) after a certain pivotal moment in the narrative. I suppose I was expecting some additional final twist that never happened, and the one-note conclusion just came across as somewhat lacking, considering how sharp the rest of the film was. That’s not to say that Goldberg & Eisenberg as a whole is a letdown by any means though – quite the contrary, as it showcases a young talent with a unique cinematic voice who makes a strong case for potential future success in the horror/comedy genre. And alongside Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves from earlier this year, Carmi’s debut works to put Israeli on the map as a key player in the modern world of international horror cinema.
3 . 5 / 5 S T A R S