• by Wes Singleton

A Tale of Love and Darkness, B-

Rated PG-13, 99 minutes

In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles

The uneven but affecting new independent drama "A Tale of Love and Darkness," directed and written by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman and based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Amos Oz, has a few stirring moments as it speaks to family and the events that shape us. Influenced by his mother's (Portman) stories and poetry readings, young Amos Oz (Amir Tessler) grows up in 1940s Jerusalem and becomes a famous writer. Portman, a native Isreali herself and a first-time feature director, has created a serviceably familiar story in the modestly touching "A Tale of Love and Darkness," though the storyline seems a bit over her head as a first-time director. She touches upon, but doesn't fully develop the emotional undercurrents of the story, and from book to movie the focus has changed (unsurprisingly) from boy to his Mom. Understandably, she had considerable impact on him, but her many imaginative stories she tells to Amos aren't well integrated into the narrative, giving it a noticeably choppy feel, though there are a handful of powerful and touching moments, and while she has room to grow as a director, it's a serviceable start. Newcomer Tessler is also strong as young Amos, and the film benefits from seeing many things through his eyes, even if Portman becomes the clear focus of the movie. The production values and other details are solid throughout as well, and Portman shows some finesse in front of the camera tackling Hebrew and Arabic in addition to her directing duties. The poignant "A Tale of Love and Darkness" lacks certain touches to expand the narrative that a more experienced eye could've given it, but it benefits from good performances and a pleasant chemistry from Portman and Tessler.

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