Death and grieving is not a stranger to cinema. Many films are fascinated with the idea of exploring death and how the loved ones who are left behind deal with the death. It is also a very sensitive subject, because its likely that each and every one of us has lost a loved one, and had to deal with the rollercoaster of emotion and internal turmoil that comes with the mourning process. It is never an easy subject to see on film, and while many films do try and make light of the grieving process (not necessarily a criticism – I can tell you from my own experience, nothing helps a grieving person quite like laughter) – but then there are so films that take a very honest and emotional look at the process – and none more raw and deeply moving as One Week and a Day (Shavua ve yom), one of the most intensely sad but strangely uplifting films about the grieving process I’ve ever seen.
One Week and a Day is about Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi) and his wife, Vicky (Jenya Dodina), an Israeli couple who lose their son to cancer. After the traditional one week period of sitting shiva (the mourning period traditional in the Jewish faith), they have very different reactions to returning to normal life, albeit one without their son. Vicky tries to put on a brave face and return to work, whereas Eyal is far more disturbed by the loss of their son – and descends into a childlike, somewhat immature frame of mind, where he is incredibly destructive, both towards himself and his friends and family. His idea of mourning is getting high with his neighbour’s young son (Tomer Kapon), and generally causing trouble. It is a simple premise, but one that is tremendously touching and emotionally resonant.
There is something fascinating about One Week and a Day – it starts out as a very dark comedy, with the juvenile antics of the main character appearing to be somewhat humorous – he is a bitter, cold man who doesn’t care about the feelings of others – and as cinema has shown us countless times, misanthropes can be insanely likable. It helps that Vicky is a logical, rational woman and her attempts to appeal to her husband to not act as immaturely as he does only creates a sense of comedy. This almost seems like something the late Robin Williams would have starred in if this film was made in America. However, as the film goes on, Eyal doesn’t change his behaviour, but his immaturity goes from comedic to utterly tragic – we see a dreadfully broken man, who is doing his very best to distract from the fact that he lost his son. This is not a funny film in the least – and I would argue the presence of some comedic moments are actually the saddest aspects of this film – it highlights the emotional hell the characters in this film are doubtlessly going through.
One Week and a Day is a very intimate film, and like many great family drama films, it depends almost entirely on the performances. One Week and a Day is almost entirely carried on the strengths of Shai Avivi’s beautiful performance. He is unbelievable in this film – raw, emotional and heartbreaking, he creates the image of a man utterly broken by the death of his son. His performance is unique in its audacity. He is beyond incredible, and he carries the simple but devastating nature of this film. I honestly think Avivi is a revelation here. Jenya Dodina is equally incredible as Vicky, the grieving mother who is doing her very best to not crumble after suffering such a great loss. It is a film not only about death, but about the limits of a marriage after such a devastating loss. Both Dodina and Avivi are incredible in this film. Tomer Kapon is also impressive as the neighbour’s son who has his own unique reaction to the death of his childhood friend.
There is something about the way One Week and a Day represents mourning. It doesn’t glamorize or demonize the process – it shows it in the most honest and frank manner possible. The grieving process is not easy for anyone, but there is something about how it is shown in One Week and a Day that is pretty incredible. The true emotion in these characters is brought out through incredible characterization and dedicated performances by the cast. This is not an easy film to watch, because it is brutal and unrelenting in how it presents the lives of people who have lost someone exceptionally close to them. It may be a difficult watch for anyone who has had to face the prospect of continuing in a world where a loved one no longer resides.
There is also something so touching about One Week and a Day – it has a rare simplicity. It throws human emotion on the screen without any superfluous narrative – everything in this film is essential for the story to be driven forward, and there is something inherently human about this film – a beautiful story told in the most simple and sensitive way. I would compare this to Manchester by the Sea, similar in how it tackles the story of mourning without being frilly or distracting from the true humanity of the story. It is honestly a masterpiece.
If you want to watch One Week and a Day, be prepared to weep. It is a film that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The central performances are masterclasses in giving subtle and beautiful performances. The story and execution is absolutely stunning, and the final moments of this film are absolutely devastating. It is an extraordinary film that I hope everyone will seek out – it is a truly terrific piece of world cinema, and even though it is made in Israel, it contains a universal story and one that will unite us all through our mutual understanding of the difficulties that come with losing a loved one. A lovely film.