Free Zone

Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Sept. 29–Thurs., Oct. 5. Not rated. 90 minutes.

Upon being told that this Israeli movie starring Natalie Portman was pretty damn good, a colleague asked, "Is it pretty damn good in a 'Natalie's hot' kinda way, or otherwise?" Portman has cruised on her looks on several occasions, but co-writer/director Amos Gitai disavows us of that possibility right off the bat, with a 10-minute static close-up shot of her crying until the eyeliner runs down her face, to the tune of a mournful, insanely catchy Hebrew song about cycles of destruction. Portman plays Rebecca, a young American in Israel who leaves her fiancé after learning the truth about his past, and is so desperate to leave the country that she tags along with a Jewish cab driver (Hana Laszlo) en route to the Free Zone—an area between the borders of Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia where used cars and other things are sold—to collect on a debt for the driver's wounded husband. Shot mostly in close-ups, it's a fascinating road movie with an absurdist allegorical finale. LUKE Y. THOMPSON

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