When we first meet Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi), the bearded, bedraggled protagonist of Asaph Polonsky’s droll debut feature, One Week and a Day, he’s supposed to be observing the last day of shiva for his deceased son, but instead he’s trouncing a child in a game of ping pong. Later, he skips the funeral service for a flighty quest to retrieve his son’s blanket from the hospital where he died. He doesn’t find it, but he does find a bag of medicinal weed, which he spends the next day smoking with his laidback young neighbor, Zooler (Tomer Kapon). Meanwhile, his wife, Vicky (Evgenia Dodina), immediately jumps back into her daily routine: The day after the funeral, she shows up to her job unannounced—they’re surprised to see her—and even keeps a previously scheduled dental appointment. If it’s not the behavior one expects of a couple coping with the death of their only child, that’s because they aren’t really coping with the loss at all. Rather, they’re running from it.
One Week and a Day is a comedy of sorts, one that depicts the difficult period of transition from mourning back into normal life with a minor-key deadpan that more often elicits sighs of recognition than outright laughter. Even a classically comedic scene of Eyal vainly attempting to roll a joint using the bottom of a drumstick wrapper as a makeshift weed funnel is laden with a sense of melancholy. Polonsky’s distanced yet probing direction allows us to sympathize with Eyal’s erratic behavior even as we recoil at his momentary bursts of rage. There’s a deep wellspring of grief burbling beneath the surface of the film, which Polonsky taps into judiciously, allowing the full weight of Eyal and Vicky’s despair to rise to the surface only in those brief moments when they find themselves alone, their faces etched with the pain of remembrance as their thoughts turn inexorably to their departed son.
Films about grief practically demand a moment of catharsis, and One Week and a Day delivers one but in a highly unusual and surprising way. Late in the film, Eyal finds himself transfixed by a man’s eulogy for his sister. As he speaks, we see scenes of the man shaving, driving around, and struggling to clean a large plop of bird shit off of his windshield; as he sits in a car wash he screams in utter anguish. This strange interlude—which may be a flashback or something sprung from Eyal’s imagination—is oddly revelatory: For the first time in the film, he seems to be experiencing something outside of himself, reconnecting his emotions to the world beyond his own grief. It’s a disarming moment—subtle, sharp, and unexpected—and it’s characteristic of Polonsky’s deft ability to tackle that heaviest of subjects with the lightest of touches.