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Natalie Portman makes her directorial debut with "A Tale of Love and Darkness," a bleak but tenderly rendered adaptation of Israeli author Amos Oz's memoir.

Portman portrays Oz's mother, Fania, a Polish exile living in British-controlled Palestine with her husband, Arieh (Gilad Kahana), a bookish literary scholar, and their 10-year-old son, Amos (Amir Tessler). Through Amos' observations, we see day-to-day life in Jerusalem, the bloody conflict for Israel's independence and Fania's crippling bouts of depression.

Portman, who also wrote the screenplay, preserves Oz's prose by shooting the film in Hebrew and including many passages of melancholy voice-over (read by Moni Moshonov). Though the tone is sometimes gloomy and nostalgic, Portman pours her heart into every moment, showing her devotion to Oz and to Israel, the country of her birth.

'A Tale of Love and Darkness'

Opens Friday, Sept. 16, at Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated PG-13 for thematic content and some disturbing violent images; in Hebrew with subtitles; 98 minutes.