Premiered in TIFF last September, Montana tells the story of a young woman who returns to her hometown in Israel following the death of her grandfather, she falls in love with a married teacher despite the looming figure of her fractured past, in the feature debut by Limor Schmilla.
Director: Limor Shmila
Writer: Limor Shmila
Star: Noa Biron
Roger Ebert: “Montana” is not the usual type of story of a person coming back home after a loss. In this case, a woman named Efi (Noa Biron) returns to her hometown of Acre after a long time when her grandfather commits suicide. That very truth is one of many things unspoken in a group of people that includes Efi’s aunt and uncle, a family friend named Karen and Karen’s young daughter Maya. Living close to each other geographically and often shown spending time with each other, these people harbor secrets about who is sleeping with who, as expressed through the many silent gazes. Efi’s mother is out of the picture, and speaking in a phone call in one scene hints that she wants nothing to do with these people. Scene-by-scene as the secrets become more sordid, you start to understand why.
Meanwhile, Efi becomes romantically attached to Karen, who also happens to now live in Efi’s old childhood home. They start a connection that is intense but also creates high stakes for the secrets Efi uncovers, which could destroy this close-knit group of people. Shmila makes an effective slow burn of a domestic mystery movie as Efi pieces together the unspoken lives of these people, putting her nose into business that reflects her own experience from years ago.
The center of the story is Noa Biron, who gives a steely, fascinating performance akin to a hard-boiled detective, especially with every slow, contemplative drag of a cigarette that she takes. There’s a lot behind the way she looks with skepticism on these people while they fraternize, or how her connection with Karen is something that makes her electric but still quiet, contemplative. As Shmila builds the movie around Efi’s realizations (perhaps too gradually, early on), Biron is a compelling surrogate into this world where secrets have become normalized, and innocence was lost long ago.