After his business partner Malamud’s death, Yaakov Fidelman is left to fend for his antique furniture restoration business. This scenario brings to light all the imperfections in his relationships, and the degree to which he has buried himself in his work to the neglect of knowing his own business, customers, community, and even his deceased partner. Yaakov’s expression is aloof, inward, depressed. Every interpersonal encounter he has is another evidence of the distance he’s fostered between himself and others, including his own son.
Though we first see Yaakov’s old hands opening a jar of varnish, cleaning the surface of an antique table, it is a young man named Anton that appears to us fully. Anton wanders the streets, asks for work, steals fruit, and watches his back as if he is being followed (which is partly true). He is running away from his own history and finds temporary solace in Yaakov’s studio. And yet Anton, the first face shown, carries an enigmatic quality throughout the film, begging more questions than answers about his origins and intentions with every decision he makes. Yaakov finds in Anton the raw material for a casual father/son dynamic that he is unable to achieve with his real son, who utilizes his business savvy to figure out a solution for his father’s business. Anton learns the trade of restoration with a child’s enthusiasm, and in the midst of Yaakov’s seeming junk, discovers a valuable Steinway piano. Restoring the piano and repairing its broken frame in hopes of a big sell becomes a saving grace and distraction for Yaakov, but drives another wedge between Yaakov and his son.
Restoration is a dynamic title for this film. Owing to the process of refurbishing furniture, wiping away the soot of histories, healing cracks and imperfections, then refining, smoothing and polishing surfaces. It is a pointed metaphor for what Yaakov is simply unable to do with his own life. His desperation to keep the business supports this idea, because restoration is where Yaakov has empirical control, and enjoys a silent rapport with his objects.
Restoration is visually beautiful and attuned to its own small scale. It employs a simplified “indie” feel through economy of storytelling and a loose camera. Character and tone are foremost, and they forge the framework of Restoration’s sullen immersion. What’s so compelling about the film is how judicial its infusion of implicative details is throughout, never spelling out the reasons for anyone’s behavior, but accumulating inferences. Our imaginations are therefore front and center as Restoration unfolds.
Restoration screens this Saturday, March 17 at 8:30 PM at Drexel University as part of the 16th annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia.