TJFF ’24: Yaniv

Directed by Amnon Carmi, Yaniv follows Barry Bernstein (Ben Ducoff), a high school drama teacher who’s budget is slashed entirely, throwing their upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors into disarray. But things seem to be looking up when Barry hears about an underground gambling scene for the Hasidic community, centred around a little known card game called ‘yaniv’. Enlisting the help of his friend, Jonah (Eli Boskey), the two men go undercover in the ultra-Orthodox community in the hopes of winning back Barry’s missing budget.

With a spirit of silliness, Yaniv is genuinely entertaining. As they lean hard into the absurdity of the secret tournament, Ducoff and Boskey show solid chemistry between them. This is a story that feels somewhat goofy in every way but still manages to keep the viewer caring about its characters. (Who knew that the world of Yaniv was so competitive?) While the story at times may feel like a mishmash of other comedies we’ve seen in the past, Ducoff and Boskey work hard to keep the film feeling fresh.

But, while Yaniv takes its laughs seriously, not everything is irreverent. In fact, the film also does a good job exploring the dangers of addiction, specifically through the character of Jonah. Although apprehensive at first, Jonah acquiesces to his friend’s request. Gambling has always been an issue for him but he knows how badly Barry needs the money. However, as he moves more deeply into the tournament, we see the toll that gambling takes on his soul. Flashbacks to his past highlight the damage that his addiction has done to his family and we are genuinely concerned about his actions in the present. With an eye on healing and hope, Yaniv does a good job showing the life-altering pain of addiction, even if it has some laughs along the way.

Yaniv is playing at TJFF ’24. For more information, click here

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