Directed by: #GuyLichtenstein
Written by: Guy Lichtenstein
Set against a vibrant backdrop of a night in Jerusalem, Guy Lichtenstein’s Birthday Present explores the multiculturalism, commitment and power dynamics of a couple’s last night together. Stellar production value allows Lichtenstein’s script to develop the interesting narrative of Tomer, an Israeli student and his lover Clara, an Austrian Tourist roaming the streets searching for a morning-after pill. There is a believable intimacy and history to the characters as Lichtenstein lets the setting and body language speak as much as the dialogue, avoiding awkward exposition dumps to contextualise everything.
All of the moments between Tomer and Clara are enhanced by Georg Geutebrueck’s cinematography, reflecting their vulnerabilities with extended shots and close-ups. Both characters are contemplating this life-changing event that they aren’t even sure will occur, its the unknown growing between them that creates the film’s dynamic. Lichtenstein and Geutebrueck, along with Alexander Rauscher’s editing builds so much in the silence, not a conflict but possibility, especially with Almuth Hattwich’s Clara. While Tomer’s motivations are clear; his poorly hid nerves and insistence on finding a night pharmacy probably don’t indicate he’s ready for fatherhood, Clara’s more detached attitude feeds into the film’s themes of differing cultural mindsets.
Clara and Tomer’s relationship is merely a fling, neither side wanting to be anything more with references to Clara’s boyfriend back in Austria. In two separate incidents, men make conservative comments on their relationship on contradicting points; once for intimacy, another for their lack of commitment. Nitai Gvirtz portrays Tomer as a man disconnected almost apprehensive of his culture, not wanting to alienate Clara. He obviously doesn’t hold the same views but he seems to perceive Clara as an escape, with the possible pregnancy causing reality to crash down on him. Birthday Present is about Tomer’s perspectives being quietly challenged by Clara’s presence, its the fusion of different people and the growth that comes from it.
Hattwich plays Clara as an enigma, ordinary but brimming with intrigue, it is a terrific subtle performance and shows Lichtenstein’s skilful restraint as a director. Birthday Present remains beautifully realistic throughout, the film foregoes traditional portrayals of conflict and stakes, not hitting the audience over the head about anything. Lichtenstein through minimalistic actions has both characters learn more about each other during their journey as both Gvirtz and Hattwich’s acting gives great layering to his screenplay.
The future for the characters is left to interpretation but the film leaves them in a place of good fortune. Whether Clara is pregnant or if the two will ever see each other again doesn’t matter, Birthday Present is the gift of them being a part of each other’s lives even for a moment. There is no regret or anger, there are even a few moments in the night where perhaps they are in love, its that idea of how in the vastness of this world, our differences do more to connect us than divide.