Her hair in tangled knots, Tsili (Sara Adler, and also Meshi Olinski later on) scrapes around to construct a temporary shelter in the woods, scratching at her back, sucking bloodied fingers and grunting softly as she goes about her work. She’s been reduced to this by war; a young Jewish woman struggling to survive in the forest alone, her entire family already deported to the camps. Tsili is not without starkly desperate moments, but as a whole Amos Gitai’s film is peculiarly flat, numb to the point of boredom.
The soundtrack to her solitude is no longer bird calls and rustling bushes; its explosions and gunfire. The night sky frequently lights up phosphorescent white. One day, her solitude is ended when a man approaches, tentatively introducing himself as Marek (Adam Tsekhman). Later on, she moves out of the forest and finds a group of people waiting for a boat to take them away. Gitai, adapting Aharon Appelfeld’s novel, keeps it simple, preferring to let Tsili’s methodical survival do the talking.
Often filming from above, he captures the oppressive nature of Tsili’s surroundings well. Rain pours in leaving her with no option other than to huddle up and wait for it to pass. Branches crack as she crawls across them and the wind slaps her hair around. Later on, when she meets up with fellow survivors, the conversation is muted, turning to things they’ve lost and the endless battles ahead. Tsili also dips into the deeper problems faced by women. They are not only victims but also the spoils of war. Although they build a relationship of sorts, Marek thinks nothing of taking what he wants despite protestations.
Too much is stripped away though, hollowing out the impact. Gitai brings out the boredom that comes from hiding out for months on end but it starts to take over his film. With little insight into the heart of Tsili, her gradual progress becomes a dull slog to the end. It’s not a question of knowing that she, and an infinitely greater number around her suffered. That much is clear. Instead, there’s little feeling and even less understanding of this on display. The psychosis imposed on millions, and the acute pain inflicted on the individual are lost in the silent forest.
When she does finally break out it’s too late. The damage has already been done but the extended sequence with fellow survivors does little to reverse course anyway. The only jolt comes in the form of archive footage underscored by electrifying violins to close. Otherwise, Tsili’s efforts to show the numbing impact of the war succeed only in anaesthetising itself.
Director: Amos Gitai
Stars: Andrei Kashkar, Leah Koenig, Adam Tsekhman
Runtime: 88 min