Each year Netanya AACI has a mini-Israeli film festival, with Israeli movies with English subtitles on four consecutive days. These are supposed to make the local movies accessible to a non-Hebrew speaking audience. This year the movies were “Hunting Elephants,” “Dove flying.” “Bethlehem” and “Gett.” Unfortunately we missed the last one in the series.
“Hunting elephants” was a silly movie, attempting to be funny, but not really succeeding. It was based in part on the American movie “Going in style,” about a group of old men deciding to rob a bank. But, it was a poor copy. It had two extraneous characters, a young boy (grandson of one of the oldsters) who had no charisma, and an English relative played by Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame, whose acting and role in this movie were below par. Not worth seeing.
“Dove flying” was tackling a serious subject and trying to be serious, but it only succeeded in being ponderous and glacially slow. The subject was the final days of the Jewish presence in Iraq in 1950, under the Monarchy, but before the revolution. It follows the story of a young pro-Zionist and his family and acquaintances. It shows the arrests of Jews for writing against the excesses of the regime, and the clashes within the Jewish community between the Zionists, the anti-Zionist who considered themselves Iraqi after 70 generations in Iraq (long before the Muslims/Arabs came) and intended to stay whatever happened, and the Communists. Several groups left surreptitiously for Israel, and then the Government, for whatever reasons, allowed Jews to leave openly for Israel, but they had to leave behind all their possessions and property. One criticism of this film was that it avoided all drama and trauma. We hear of people being arrested, but see only two. We hear of torture but see none of it. The hero is arrested and jailed for Zionist activity, but then is mysteriously released and continues as before. Everyone in this movie, including the Arab peasants shouting “death to the Jews” all appear nice and clean and disciplined. Finally, ca. 150,000 of the Jews leave, but only half of the total, and those that stayed faced a worse existence.
“Bethlehem” was by far the best movie of the trio and was both serious and dramatic. It portrays the story of an Arab boy who is manipulated into becoming a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. His cooperation is obtained by assurances that his old father will not be arrested and imprisoned. This is based on a true experience, as illustrated in the Israeli documentary “The Green Prince,” about the son of the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin, who was induced to become an Israeli agent in order to protect his father. “Bethlehem” follows the story of how the Mossad tries to find a terrorist who has killed 9 people in a bombing in Tel Aviv who is hiding near the town. The boy has an Israeli handler who is both intelligent and sensitive. He likes the boy and tries to protect him. But in doing so he eventually endangers his own life and that of his colleagues. The boy lies to him and does not tell him that he has been acting as a courier for the terrorist, taking him money from Hamas although he belongs to the competing Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The clashes between these competing Palestinian groups, and the Palestinian Authority forces are the most dramatic and believable incidents in the movie. In the final scene the Mossad agent, who has a wife and two children, goes to an unauthorized meeting with the boy, knowing that he has lied to him in the past, without a gun and without backup. This undermines the credibility of the plot.