A lot of people say that Israel is one of the best places to be gay and that Tel Aviv is one of the freest, most welcoming places for LGBT people, with a vibrant and open gay culture. However if the gay-themed films coming out of Israel are anything to go by, there’s still a lot of challenges for LGBT people in the country.
Snails In The Rain is one of several Israeli movies made over the past few years looking at the difficulty for closeted men who are struggling with the fact the life they’re living doesn’t match the way they feel inside. Interestingly a lot of these movies also juxtapose the men’s lives now with their experiences when they were in the military (which is compulsory for all young Israelis). You can understand why this is, as being in the army is almost the apogee of masculinity in society’s eyes and yet for many people it will be where they first express their same sex feelings.
The film is about student Boaz (Yoav Reuveni), who has a girlfriend and seems to be on his way to a successful life. He begins receiving anonymous love letters from another man, which are passionate and somewhat obsessive. This begins to challenge Boaz’s idea of himself, as he starts to look at other men and see the sexual possibilities, as well as remembering his experiences in the army. He’s far from happy about this and his torment over it begins to get to the edge of violence, even while he is keen for the letters to continue.
In the English-speaking world, movies about closeted gay men are less popular than they once were, but it’s emerging as one of the most common subjects in film from other parts of the globe, where the idea of a ‘gay culture’ and people being open about their sexuality is newer. In Israel in particular these films suggest that part of the issue is that the country has a very masculine idea of itself, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering the political situation, and that this becomes an extra challenge when someone has to face their sexuality.
Snails In The Rain is a challenging and interesting movie, but not 100% successful. Although movies don’t have to be about likeable people, there are moments with Boaz where it becomes difficult to care what happens to him, no matter what he’s struggling with. One thing in particular that he does to his girlfriend, which she blithely forgives a little later, is actually pretty despicable, but the film sort of skims over it, only caring how it illuminates his struggle.
I also couldn’t quite work out why everything around Boaz suddenly becomes gay. It seems he can’t move without men making eyes at him or offering a sexual possibility. It’s possible we’re just seeing things through Boaz’s eyes and that he’s suddenly aware of other men and may be seeing something sexual that isn’t necessarily there. However it slightly comes across as if you can’t do anything in Israel without another man wanting to sleep with you. That’s perhaps even more surprising as despite being set in Tel Aviv, there’s no sense of there being any gay culture other than a park full of dead trees where furtive men do deliberately hidden things to one another in the dark. The film slightly gives the impression that every gay person lives in their own little world of shame and there’s no possibility of real connection, except perhaps for anonymous letters.
The movie does successfully get across the conflict Boaz feels – both attracted to and repelled by a side of himself that he’s tried to subsume. However it’s difficult to get past the feeling that the world around him isn’t quite real and that everything’s been slightly contrived to push the characters in particular, guilt-riddled directions. Plus the fact Boaz should probably have been put in prison for at least one thing he does in the movie doesn’t help.
Overall Verdict: Snails In The Rain captures the struggle of living in the closet when the straight life you’ve built for yourself is challenged by the fact this isn’t who you really are. However its myopic focus somewhat undermines the film, forgiving Boaz for despicable things and making everything far more boxed in than the real world.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac