Reel Israel

14 August 2012 | 8:00 am | Anthony Carew

Anthony Carew has spent the last few days watching films for the Israel Film Fest. He’s giving us his verdict.

It's a plot synopsis whose very premise feels like the most embarrassingly literal piece of storytelling symbolism; a pair of babies are accidentally switched in the hospital —yes, that old chestnut— and raised by families who aren't theirs by blood. Except, there's a big twist: the Jewish baby is raised in Palestine by an Arab family, and the Arab baby is raised in Israel by a Jewish family. Thus, cultural divisions are writ as symbolic as, oh, say, a wall dividing the families; the text is alive with characters whose internal conflicts are the question of religious identity —is it by blood or by socialising?— made manifest. Such a set-up —the story device is as ancient as myth; verily biblical— makes The Other Son seem like it is going to be wild melodrama at best, a sledgehammer issue movie at worst. Yet Lorraine Levy's deftly-drawn drama takes its theatrical premise and then examines it real humanist wait; daring to seek out simple, uneasy human truths lingering in the screenwritten contrivance. It helps that the now-grown-up, 19-year-old boys (Medhi Dehbi and Jules Sitruk, respectively) are super-good-looking, progressive, thoughtful, sensitive souls with gleaming white teeth; and whilst their parents range from bewildered through to wrathful, they become pals open to their new, conflicted cultural identities. They're so open and sweet and attractive that the film moves towards feelgoodism; with a wounded central turn from French starlet Emmanuelle Devos giving it even more of a sense of accessibility.

It's one of the highlights of the 2012 Israeli Film Festival, an institution whose existence —it not just a collection of curated pictures, but an arm of the Australian/Israeli Cultural Exchange— is just as weighty and symbolic as The Other Son's plot. Historically, the quality of the IFF hasn't made it much of an cinematic event beyond its cultural weight; although, every year, there's highlights to be found. There's also duds —like My Australia, a maudlin drama of Polish kids repatriated to Israel in the '60s in which the symbolism is big and stupid; and My Lovely Sister, a zany village comedy of excruciating caricatures and horrendous 'humour'— of course, but let's forget them; and talk things like Dolphin Boy, an astonishing documentary which chronicles a youth whose post-traumatic-distress manifests itself as a kind of autistic amnesiac fugue state, and for whom 'dolphin therapy' is a last recourse.

Lipstikka is, however, the unlikely jewel to be dug out from the IFF program. A micro-budget English movie helmed by Jonathan Sagall, it uses a device familiar from crime-movies, in which an old, lost friend comes back into the life of a central figure 'gone straight', threatening to drag them back into the sinful past they've hoped to escape from. Except, here, they're a pair of Palestinian ex-pats living in London; the 'straight' half an upwardly-mobile housewife, her friend a walking disaster whose psychological distress is corrosive, creating nearly a state of paranoia-thriller. And, most importantly, the past isn't the dramatic tedium of crime; but the painful scars of life under Occupation. It's a carefully-penned and artfully-made, a study of female sexuality, the unreliability of memory, and the inability to truly start over. In all likelihood, it would've never screened here save for the IFF; thereby justifying the fest's existence for another year.

Israeli Film Festival runs from:
Wednesday 15 August – Sunday 26 August, Palace Verona, Sydney
Tuesday 28 August – Sunday 9 September, Palace Como and Brighton Bay, Melbourne
Wednesday 29 August – Wed 5 September,  Palace Centro, Brisbane
Tuesday  4 September – Wed 12 September, Cinema Paradiso, Perth

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