Some movies garner undeserved critical praise and this film by Israeli director Dror Zahavi is a perfect example. Nominated for no less than seven Israeli Academy Awards and winner of the Audience Award at the Moscow International Film Festival, this piece of crudely-argued schmaltz for an Israel beleaguered by its violent neighbors played last week to a packed audience at Aspen’s Filmfest. Shamelessly pulling on various and sundry heartstrings, this examination of a putative Palestinian suicide bomber manages in 100 painfully long minutes to deliver not a single dramatically valid moment. How can such a theme, presumably loaded with great significance, be treated in such a maudlin, biased manner?
Tarek, a twenty-ish amateur soccer player intent on restoring his father’s besmirched honor, allows himself to be strapped into a homemade bomb and slipped illegally into Tel Aviv where he’s to detonate the explosives in one of the city’s crowded marketplaces before sundown on the Sabbath. When an electrical switch on the device refuses to detonate, Tarek finds a repair shop run by an elderly Jewish man named Katz who promises to replace the item first thing Sunday morning. Unable to remove his lethal secret, (he’s been told by his handlers that he’ll trigger it if he does and that they’ll do it for him if he fails to keep his promise) Tarek wanders the neighborhood in which the repair shop is located and returns to find its owner in need of help repairing his roof. Tarek volunteers, gets invited to dinner and thus into the lives of the Mr. & Mrs. Katz, who’ve lost their only son in an accident during basic training exercises conducted by the Israeli army.
Tarek next befriends Keren, a teenage girl who runs the neighborhood cigarette shop across the street from Katz’s business. She’s disgraced her ultra-Orthodox family by getting pregnant and finds in Tarek a soul nearly as directionless as she is abandoned. Over the course of the next 36 hours, Tarek shares a meal with his new employer, saves his wife from suicide and rescues Keren from a gang of religious thugs intent on punishing her for shaming her father. All this takes place while the erstwhile terrorist argues via cell phone with his colleagues about repairing the bomb so it can be set off early Sunday morning. But conflicted by his hatred of Jews, the need to redeem his father’s honor and the burgeoning feelings he’s developed for Keren and the Katz family, Tarek replaces the damaged switch, removes the shrapnel located within to reduce the device’s lethal impact and marches to the film’s climax still undecided about what to do…
This sappy storyline is delivered by a cast of thoroughly competent actors, but it’s shot in tones of pasty yellow, presumably to suggest Tel Aviv’s intense heat. Unfortunately, the technique results in everyone looking jaundiced and that annoying element is aggravated by some of the most amateurish cinematography to be seen anywhere this side of a student film; the should make even the most charitably-inclined viewer cringe.
But it’s the smug tone of this clichéd melodrama I find most offensive; the issues which divide The Holy Land are painfully real, even to the most casual observer. For an Israeli filmmaker to pretend the gulf between Jew and Arab can be somehow better understood by crafting a soap-opera that implicitly suggests Israelis are really nice people whose intentions are simply misunderstood by their Arab neighbors constitutes an egregious subversion of the facts, making For My Father little more than a piece of shamefully heavy-handed propaganda.
Suicide bombers and their motivations are volatile subjects and any director purporting to examine them seriously must be prepared to do so with brutal, honest evenhandedness; four years ago, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad did just that in his riveting Paradise Now, (a review can be found at www.jakestakes.com). That film should be required viewing for anyone trying to get inside the mind of a terrorist; For My Father isn’t worth the time and money to be spent seeing it, nor the effort required to probe beneath its cloying sentimentality for the film’s real motives.
The Verdict? Bad technically and even worse substantively.
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