Film: Lemon Popsicle / Eskimo Limon (1978)

May 10, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Teen Comedy / Drama

Synopsis: Classic & cult teen comedy-drama in which an Israeli teen vies for the affection of a girl in spite of his best friend’s slick maneuvering.

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

Please note: this review contains spoilers galore!

 

There’s a theory that Cannon Films would never have existed had it not been for this frank, provocative, sexually overheated teen comedy by Boaz Davidson, which was seen by almost half of Israel and earned an enormous amount of money in Europe and Japan during its theatrical run.

In spite of its cult status, Davidson’s film didn’t click as strongly in the U.S., but the success of the film allowed producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to move Cannon Films to the U.S., and build a meteoric empire of genre movies, of which Davidson made his share of contributions as writer, producer, and director.

Reportedly based on a event & relationship in Davidson’s life, Lemon Popsicle predates Porky’s (1981) and Meatballs (1979) and the mass-wave of teen comedies that soon flooded screens with borderline and R-rated content in the late 70s and 1980s, but it took huge inspiration from George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) by layering in a mass of hit singles to similarly evoke a bubbly 1950s setting.

Although set in Tel Aviv – the signage very clearly reveals we’re in Israel – the characters and their misadventures, antics, and troubles (not to mention cars and music) are very western, as is the simple story of a decent kid who’s wholly unable to thwart his best friend’s efforts to shag the love of his young life. When she gets pregnant, he manages to get the funds for an abortion, but his hope of seeing friendship advance to true romance crumbles fast.

This isn’t your typical teen comedy plot, which should make the film uneven and outright bizarre, but as Lemon Popsicle’s aged into a cult curio with dated sexism, the performances by the young cast remain fresh and compelling. Sequels inevitably dilute an original’s most attractive elements, but the cast’s natural performances in No. 1 still resonate and transcend the uncomfortable sequences which may reflect the era, but also Davidson’s lack of sensitivity.

The core plot follows three best friends, good kid Benzi (Yftach Katzur), tall & handsome Momo (Jonathan Sagall), and chubby Yudale (Zachi Noy) as they pick up girls in soda joints, sneak into a cinema, and soon vie for two girls – Nili (Anat Atzmon), a newcomer to the high school, and her bespectacled nerdy friend Bracha (Rachel Steiner). As Momo and Nili get closer, Benzi’s stuck with Bracha, while Yudale has zero luck with women, tagging along with his friends but  oddly never feeling like a 3rd wheel, especially when his friends are romancing the girls in the same car.

When Nili becomes pregnant and Momo casts her aside, a disgusted Benzi swoops in, taking her to a clinic and allowing her to recover from the procedure at the shuttered apartment of his late grandmother. A hug and a kiss seem to infer Benzi and Nili’s friendship might advance to deeper emotional & physical intimacy, but her birthday party ends with Benzi leaving when he catches the former couple embracing.

The dour finale certainly runs contrary to the almost mandatory happy finale where the good kid gets the hot girl, and the stud is either embarrassed and / or sent packing, or remains a friend and willingly accepts losing the girl, but unlike American genre entries, there’s virtually no small scenes that allow Nili to deepen as a character; even her dialogue is faint and sparse.

Perhaps Davidson wanted Nili to remain fixed as a soft-focused enigma of the perfect love from a teen’s puppy dog vantage, or he and co-writer Eli Tavor lacked the insight or care to develop the film’s female characters beyond clichéd archetypes. Lemon Popsicle is presented entirely from the limited vantage of Benzi before life lessons and sharp turns in adulthood.

The problem with Davidson’s approach is the provocative sequences, which may be reflective of the outrageous material typical of the era – Italian, British, and West German cinemas had their own brand of sex comedies and bawdy, risqué erotica. Genre connoisseurs won’t have an issue with them per se – they’re partly responsible for the film’s cult status and box office success – but their inclusion mandates the girls get far less scenes.

The voyeurism through peepholes, a phallus contest, encounters with a hooker and nymphomaniac, and generic boobery are typical of the teen sex comedy, but Lemon Popsicle may be responsible for carving a benchmark to which other filmmakers could strive but never exceed without running afoul of their respective ratings board.

Whereas American teen comedies were often packed with older actors – a rather ridiculous convention – Davidson’s cast is much closer to their characters’ ages, which makes the characters far more believable, but also makes certain doses of nudity a little shocking, especially the abortion sequence in which Nili is asked by the doctor to fully disrobe for the procedure.

The infamous nymphomaniac scene with Stella (Ophelia Shtruhl) and the three pals is lengthy, and features a full-frontal moment, whereas the topless shots may be verboten for PG genre entries, but acceptable for R-rated entries in the U.S. (In Europe, topless nudity was and remains less provocative.) On the other hand, the hooker scene, while a little garish and coarse, is funny because it’s three hot-headed teens unprepared for a business encounter in which the service agent (played by a real provider) disallows stalling, nuisance chit-chat, or negotiating for a lower group rate.

The character of Yudale would get more screen time in the sequels – Sababa (1983), a standalone spin-off followed – but in the first film Noy is limited to playing ‘the fat kid’ who tries in vain to score, and is even abandoned by his pals when they score two girls and head for the cinema.

Davidson and Tavor’s humour ranges from crude to occasionally sharp and witty, and the film’s first third is the strongest because the emphasis is on capturing the energy, the boasting, the hormonal tension, and joking among teens in hangouts and school, plus the odd interaction with archetypal (and typically underwritten) parents & adults.

Adam Greenberg’s agile, handheld cinematography adds an effective little docu-drama tone, and although Alain Jakubowicz would edit mostly action films for Cannon, his cutting keeps the film’s pacing sharp, and an early dance party is really beautifully assembled from a diversity of angles and fluid camera movements; it’s the best cut and most energetic sequence in the film.

The almost exclusive reliance on American rock & pop songs – some previously heard in American Graffiti – work well, but there are few moments of genuine silence – signs of a younger, zealous filmmaker (and maybe influential producers) wanting as many songs to not only keep the film bubbly, but sell a possible soundtrack album.

The film’s music rights may be a reason Lemon Popsicle remains unavailable on DVD in North America, or it could be part of a batch of Israeli films produced by Cannon which its current owners feel aren’t as commercial in Region 1 land.

The Israeli DVD was used for this review, and while it doesn’t include the original American dub track, the subtitles feature very Americanized names (Benzi becomes Benji and Benny; Mono is Bobby; Yudale is Huey and Johnny; Nili is Nikky; and Bracha is Martha), and the high school is named Roosevelt (!) in spite of visible Hebrew text, and the teens heading off to a kibbutz while Benzi helps Nili recover at his grandmother’s.

Even weirder are recurring but inconsistent lyrics for the English language songs that often don’t match what’s heard; sometimes it’s for a song not in the film, or for a song that appears much later. There’s also subtitles for odd bits of unspoken dialogue, but presumably they correlate with extra material added to the English dub track to fill in scenes.

Details in the audio mix are mushy due to heavy compression, and efforts to create a pseudo-surround mix consist of sometimes clumsy fades between the central dry mono track, and sudden panned effects with faux digital depth enhancements. Near the film’s end, reel changes have disruptive noise.

In spite of its dated elements, Lemon Popsicle has a certain charm, with refreshing performances and tight pacing. The resilient franchise consist of the 1978 original and sequels Going Steady / Yotzim Kavua (1979), Hot Bubblegum / Shifshuf Naim (1981), Private Popsicle / Sapiches (1982), Baby Love / Roman Za’ir (1984), Up Your Anchor / Harimu Ogen (1985), Young Love / Ahava T’zeira (1987), Summertime Blues (1988), and the reboot The Party Goes On (2001), plus the U.S. remake The Last American Virgin (1982), and the Yudale spin-off Private Maneuvers / Sababa (1983). (Further details of TV pilots and riffs are cited at a fan site for the franchise.)

The variety of distributors involved with the franchise might make a comprehensive boxed set a challenge in North America (and maybe even Europe, although there was a UK Region 0 PAL set that featured the 7 main films, albeit full-screen, and English dub tracks only), but at this stage, one of the most successful Israeli films deserves a special edition on Blu-ray; if not goosed with extras, then a boxed set that assembles as many of the films, period interviews, and ephemera in one DVD package.

The documentary Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers (2018) re-examined the film and its legacy of sequels through the recollections of its key cast & crew, and addresses several prickly controversies.

 

 

© 2019 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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