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A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS: 3 STARS. “Portman aims high and takes chances.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.46.17 PMNatalie Portman is best known as an actress, an Oscar winner for portraying the dark side of perfection in “Black Swan,” and a box office champ, recently playing comic book heroine Jane Foster in the “Thor” movies. In “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” she expands her resume to include director.

Based on the worldwide Amos Oz best-seller, this Hebrew language film is an ambitious debut that details the beginnings of the State of Israel. The story centers on Oz (Amir Tessler), a child of six-years-old when we meet him in 1945 as Israel is comes into being. His parents, librarian Arieh (Gilad Kahana) and devoted mother, Fania (Portman), soon find that after years of persecution the peace they hoped for is just out of reach. Violence and the First Arab-Israeli War take a terrible toll on Fania.

By necessity Portman, who also wrote the script, has condensed the ideas in Oz’s book, stripping away some of the coming-of-age elements and political commentary to present the personal of a woman’s struggle as seen through the eyes of a child. The film does not lack for sincerity and never feels like a vanity project. This is a deeply felt film that deals in sensitive and complex feelings. Frequently it realizes Portman’s ambition to make a personal film about a world event. The stories Fania tells her son are beautifully rendered but “A Tale of Love and Darkness” is less successful in its attempts to portray the mother’s building depression.

Overall “A Tale of Love and Darkness” is a handsome film that relies a bit too heavily on narration to forward its story. As an actor-turned-director Portman aims high, taking chances and never allowing the weight of the material to bog down the film.

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