Writer-director Savi Gabizon's Nina's Tragedies is a tender, quirky coming-of-age drama with a puckish sense of humor. But it's self-consciously tender, self-consciously quirky, and self-consciously puckish; Gabizon has a facility for passing eccentricities of character, but serious trouble staging honest and coherent emotional scenes that sustain beyond a couple of minutes.
Ostensibly, Nina's Tragedies tells the story of Nadav (Aviv Elkabets), a troubled 14-year-old in Israel. In the film's first, and perhaps best, scene, Nadav peers through the window of a funeral home and watches two men fix the wobbly wheel of a corpse-conveying cart bearing his father. Shortly, Gabizon flashes back to the months leading up to the father's death, with Nadav's parents splitting up, his father finding religion, and his mother taking a succession of lovers (cleverly represented by the ever-changing men's footwear at her doorstep).
Though Gabizon fails to show us the initial stirring of feeling, Nadav is in love with his aunt, Nina (Ayelet July Zurer). We know because Nadav tells us so. With his middle-aged friend Menahem (Dov Navon), Nadav peeps regularly through Nina's window, but when Nina's husband Haimon (Yoram Hattav) dies in a bombing, Nadav gladly agrees to his mother's request to move in with Nina and keep an eye on her in her post-mortem grief. All along the way, Nadav narrates the story with readings from his diary, a dangerous record of his peeping activities and innermost feelings.
Quickly, it's apparent that Gabizon is spreading himself too thin. The characters never have time to gel, especially the pivotal Nadav. First-time actor Elkabets doesn't have the chops to help Gabizon along, and the writer offers only occasional, all too brief scenes in which Nadav speaks to someone other than the audience. A slightly more vivid character, Nina suffers through pinball plotting that fails to arrive at any point, instead wallowing in emotions we can't share.
The quirks—like Nadav's mother having a thing for zippers and an Azerbaijani immigrant with snoring samples on his computer—perk up the narrative enough nominally to goose it along, and the director seems sincere. Still, Gabizon says what little Nina's Tragedies has to say about voyeurism and the painful distances between people (and between boyhood and manhood) with a surplus of preciousness and a deficit of truth-ringing reality.