Michael Mayer, the director of Happy Times, an extremely dark Israeli comedy, hews to an incredibly pessimistic view of mankind. His quirky feature film, now available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform, implicitly subscribes to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ grim maxim that human beings are “nasty, brutish and short.”
Mayer zeroes in on Israeli expatriates who meet at a Sabbath meal in a fancy house in an upscale neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills.
They’re an eclectic bunch.
Yossi (Ido Mor), the host, is a shady entrepreneur who crudely boasts of his business conquests. Sigal (Liraz Chamami), his wife, is a pleasant manipulator who knows how to wring special favors from her hard-boiled husband. Avner (Alon Pdut) works in high-tech, and his wife, Hila (Orit Bahr), is a lawyer. Michael (Michael Aloni) and his African American girlfriend, Aliya (Stefi Celma), are struggling actors.
There are a few more people in this diverse group, including a plumber who envies Yossi’s acumen and a young man named Maor who pines for Sigal.
They seem to have little in common except for the fact that they’re Israelis living abroad.
Michael, Sigal’s cousin, sets the disruptive tone of the evening when he belittles Yossi as a racist and accuses him of fostering antisemitism. In short order, an argument breaks out about the pros and cons of bringing children into the world, with Aliya absurdly claiming they are detrimental to the environment.
Back in the kitchen, Maor (Daniel Lapid) makes a pass at Sigal, who’s about ten years older than him. “I’m crazy about you,” he exclaims. Yossi, having caught them kissing, goes ballistic and punches Maor in the mouth. Sigal, in turn, threatens to expose Yossi to the tax authorities.
From this point onward, things go from bad to worse.
By means of a cell phone camera and his penis, Maor tries to sabotage Michael’s career. The plumber, convinced that Yossi is shutting him out of a lucrative real estate deal, beats him up. Further violence occurs as chaos envelopes Sigal’s house.
Shots are fired and two policemen appear at the door. Hila, a clever person, fobs them off with a few barbed words.
Shocked and appalled by the increasingly ugly proceedings, Aliya turns to Michael in exasperation. “These people are insane,” she declares in a factually correct comment that pretty much sums up Sigal’s raucous dinner party. “You’re all psychopaths.”
A rabbi enters the picture and soon regrets his visit. Avner seizes a shard of glass and lunges murderously toward his wife. Everyone appears unhinged, and no one is left unscathed by the ensuing madness and exploding violence.
Happy Times wallows in its misery and bloodshed until the very last scene. It’s not a movie with universal appeal, but it’s definitely very different.