THE year is 1989. The place is Israel. Boaz is a poster-boy handsome, post-army university student studying Semitic Linguistics. He lives in a rented flat in Tel Aviv with his girlfriend, Noa. Their relationship is passionate; their life calm and carefree.

The story unfolds when Boaz goes to the post office to open his mail box and check if his application for a university scholarship has been approved. He finds an envelope addressed to him and opens it.

“Dear Boaz,” reads the typewritten letter, “don’t ask who I am or how I know you. I think about you a lot. I feel quite embarrassed to sit here at my desk and write you this letter, but I don’t have the courage for much else. I shall write again.” The Hebrew verbs are inflected to reveal that the unidentified writer is a male.

Snails in the Rain at this year's Mardi Gras Film Festial

Snails in the Rain at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festial

True to his word, the anonymous author writes again. And again.

This one-way correspondence reveals an obsessive infatuation by a secret admirer who, clearly, is watching Boaz and monitoring his moves. But it also forms an eloquent and heart-wrenching account of one man’s isolation and solitude; of unrequited love; and of an aching plea for physical intimacy and companionship.

The confessional nature of the letters taps into something deep and primordial in Boaz. It triggers a sequence of flashbacks, propelling him back in time to his army service and a series of encounters with a fellow soldier. The repressed memories come flooding back, sweeping him with them.

Boaz becomes fixated with uncovering the identity of the letters’ author and works himself into a paranoid frenzy. The film takes on a “whodunnit” aspect, with every male character a prime suspect: the librarian, the car mechanic, the neighbour and the guy at the bus stop.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Boaz and Noa goes into meltdown as he is forced to confront his sexual identity, carnal desires and ever-growing sense of guilt. Silent withdrawals, angry outbursts and sleazy sex ensue, as he struggles with his secrets. But Noa has a secret of her own: she has found and read the letters.

A fourth unsigned letter arrives, presenting Boaz with an ultimatum. He is to switch on-and-off the kitchen light three times at exactly 10pm on Thursday, to indicate his interest in this correspondence. Failing that, specifies the anonymous author, all contact will be severed “and this letter will be my last”.

Snails in the Rain (the title becomes clear only at the very last scene) is a terrific work of art; a cinematic portrait of a couple at a point of crisis. The drama hinges on two axes: the girlfriend’s reaction to the discovery of the anonymous letters, and – of course – the identity of the writer.

Military life and homo-eroticism are a guaranteed cinematic crowd puller. Young, fit men in testosterone-charged situations; physical contact, shower scenes, combat action and macho banter. It is the stuff of many gay men’s fantasy. To his credit, film director Yariv Mozer captures the erotic mystique of army life in a beautiful and understated manner.

The film’s weakness lies in the linguistic sphere – an irony, given that Boaz is a student of linguistics. It is unavoidable, I concede, that many of the cultural references would be lost on a non-Israeli audience (and there are several inserts of Israeli television programs from the 1980s which will have Israelis heaving a sigh of nostalgia), but there is no excuse for the numerous clumsy – not to mention incorrect – translations from Hebrew to English.

As the hands of the clock on the wall crawl towards the deadline, Boaz finds himself in the kitchen. The inevitable question floats in the air and brings the drama to a climax: will he or won’t he flick the light switch three times?

My lips are sealed.

The Mardi Gras Film Festival guide can be found here.  The Star Observer is a proud media partner of Mardi Gras.



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