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Happy Times

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‘Happy times’ review

A group of Israeli friends and family gather for a murderous Shabbat dinner.

Sigal (Liraz Chamami) and her husband Yossi (Ido Mor) invite friends and family to their luxury home in Hollywood for a Shabbat dinner party. The arrival of Sigal’s cousin Michael (Michael Aloni) and his girlfriend Aliyah (Stéfi Celma) sparks tension amongst the group, which escalates as the night draws on and the wine keeps flowing, building to a darkly comic and shockingly violent climax.

‘Happy Times’ is from film-maker Michael Mayer and it couldn’t be more different from his classic 2012 film ‘Out in the Dark’. Assembling a diverse group of Israeli characters together for a disastrous dinner party, Mayer mixes English, Hebrew and Spanish with the characters frequently switching language depending on whom they are talking to. Against the backdrop of the opulent Hollywood mansion that Sigal and Yossi live in, the lives and relationships of these characters quickly unravel over the course of one night.

Happy Times
Credit: Artsploitation Films / Ziv Berkovich

The catalyst for that is the arrival of actor Michael, Sigal’s cousin and a man very vocal about his opposition to organised religion. That doesn’t sit well with Yossi who wants to have a traditional Shabbat dinner but is taunted by Michael who wheels out insults and slurs quicker than he can finish his first glass of wine. It’s established quickly that the relationships between these characters is fragile; Sigal is courting the attention of younger man Maor (Daniel Lavid), Yossi has some underhand dealings he’s keeping from Ilan (Guy Adler), and war vet Avener (Alon Pdut) is hiding a surprising amount of resentment for his wife Hila (Iris Bahr), and indeed everyone else around him.

Easing you in with scenes of the family and friends preparing for the dinner, ‘Happy Times’ quickly transforms into a black comedy with some seriously shocking moments of violence. It’s one of those films where a violent event happens but you can’t help smirk to yourself when it does. Mayer and his co-writer Guy Ayal have created a cast of despicable characters so you don’t really mind the ordeal they all go through. Sigal tries her best to keep things together, even when it’s her actions that tip the night over the edge, and it’s amusing to see her still trying to be the perfect hostess.

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Happy Times
Credit: Artsploitation Films / Ziv Berkovich

The cast is uniformly excellent. Liraz Chamami as Sigal is one of the standouts with her impeccable comedic timing a real joy. She’s feisty, unstoppable and relentless as Sigal, and brilliant to watch. Michael Aloni, who starred in ‘Out in the Dark’, is brilliant as the smarmy and smug actor Michael whose sole purpose is to upset everyone at the party. Also worthy of mentions are Iris Bahr who has a scene-stealing moment when Hila refuses to let two policemen into the mansion, and ‘Call My Agent’ star ‘Stéfi Celma as Michael’s bewildered girlfriend Aliyah.

‘Happy Times’ is a real hoot. It’s witty, it’s violent and it’s a whole lot of fun, and you’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and you’ll cover your eyes plenty. With tight direction from Mayer and a frequently hilarious script, the ensemble cast pulls together to deliver an excellent film that you definitely should seek out. Watching it may make you rethink that dinner invitation from your friends and family though…

Cast: Liraz Chamami, Michael Aloni, Guy Adler, Alon Pdut, Ido Mor, Iris Bahr, Shani Atias, Stéfi Celma, Daniel Lavid Director: Michael Mayer Writers: Guy Ayal and Michael Mayer Certificate: Unrated Duration: 93 mins Released by: Artsploitation Films Release date: 9th February 2021

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