There are many films that tell the story of an impossible love between partners of the same sex. Their bond is forged through some tragedy and their separation is inevitable. They will not survive. But Yoav (Oded Leopold) and Dan (Udi Persi) have made it. Through 15 years of ups and downs they are still together with successful careers, a prime Tel Aviv apartment, and a solid circle of friends. That is until Yoav’s best friend, talented artist Alma (Ruti Asarsai) becomes pregnant. Suddenly Dan wants to be a father and Yoav does not. The ultimate question of parenthood soon becomes a gulf between the two characters. One that appears insurmountable and sends Yoav into a destructive spiral. This film takes an honest look at the fabric of relationships and what it really means to love someone.
It is always enjoyable to watch a film about modern Tel-Aviv as it is a thriving, bustling city in the middle of a tiny country that is mostly desert. Israel has quietly contributed much to the modern world from the technology that made Motorola’s famous flip phone possible to the first instant messaging system. 15 Years gives us a window into this thriving world, which is something the Western world needs to see more. Director Yuval Hadadi uses the white, minimalist apartments that one finds all over Israel, as a canvas for these hard conversations and emotional confrontations. But as the film unfolds and Yoav sinks deeper into his own demons, the film itself becomes darker. Dan— with his optimism about children and the future— rules the day, whereas Yoav wrestles with his demons in a darkened flat and a city washed in night. It is a well crafted juxtaposition between the two characters.
However, even more interesting than Yoav’s crisis is Alma’s choices and embracing of motherhood. The film begins with the opening of her art exhibition and she is a defining force throughout the film. Her addition is particularly poignant as it serves to remind the audience that Israel is a vastly multicultural country filled with immigrants, and children of immigrants, from all over the world. Asarsai’s performance is passionate and gives life to the rather bleak film. If Yoav and Dan form an opposition, Alma is the meeting point. She brings the film full circle.
This film is about a relationship, but it is really about life and death. One of Yoav’s reasons for not wanting children is that as they age, so does he, and the time slips through your fingers. A child would make him confront his own mortality. It would signify some sort of end, but to what he’s not exactly sure. Both Alma and Dan advocate that children bring something to your life, a new experience, joy, and the ultimate fulfillment.
These are three characters that love each other deeply, even if they don’t always know what that means but it is not a warm or hopeful film. It seeks to reflect the behaviours we repeat because of the traumas locked within us. Yoav is doomed to repeat his relationship with his own father, unless he can find a way to embrace the love Alma and Dan offer him. It is a tale all too familiar for many of us. Starved of proper relationships in our early lives, we struggle to accept that people really love us and that we can love them back in a way that they deserve.
Yuval Hadadi’s debut feature is an interesting and harrowing watch. We don’t often get to see the maturation of LGBQIA+ couples in the standard mainstream fare, so it is up to us to seek them out. 15 Years may be the complete opposite of optimistic, but it asks valid questions about relationships, people, and how we must grow and adapt long after we’ve reached maturity.
15 Years is available to rent on VOD from April 28th
by Mia Garfield