Elevate Difference

For My Father

Centering on the chaste love affair between a Palestinian and an Israeli, For My Father offers the viewer a Middle Eastern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet while trying to spell out the complexities of post-intifada Israel.

The film opens up on Tarek (Shredi Jabarin), a Palestinian who has decided to act as suicide bomber. He’s ambivalent about the state of Israel—as well as Palestinian resistance to it—but takes action in order to salvage his yet-unseen father’s sullied reputation. After unsuccessfully trying to set off his bomb, he realizes that the device fails due to faulty wiring in the detonator, a jerry-rigged switch. Panicking, he flees, ending up in one of the scruffier areas of Tel Aviv. He ducks into an electronic repair shop, encountering Katz (Schlomo Vishinsky), an elderly Romanian Jew with a chip on his shoulder and a leaky roof. Tarek agrees to fix the hole in Katz’s roof in exchange for a new switch, which has to be ordered. As Shabbat is celebrated the next day, Katz’s shop will be closed until Sunday. Tarek is then forced to spend the weekend with the very people he was planning to kill.

During his sojourn, he interrupts the half-hearted suicide attempt of Mrs. Katz. He also befriends Keren (Hili Yalon), a beautiful tough-cookie who has fled her Orthodox Jewish community after an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. After saving her from a group of Orthodox toughs who object to her independent living and emo clothing, the two spend most of the following two days together, enjoying an easy rapport. Tarek rediscovers a passion for life which deepens his ambivalence about his mission. The fact that his handlers can detonate the bomb with a cell phone—and have threatened to harm his parents—only intensifies Tarek’s dilemma.

Yes, the movie did have its manipulative moments and the director unquestionably downplays the hostilities between Arabs and Jews in Israel. (The “Death to Arabs” graffiti scribbled on a building seemed downright contrived.) I found it odd that the Israeli characters never once questioned the very noticeable lump under Tarek’s clothes. For that matter, Keren and the Katzes seem too accepting of Tarek’s explanation for his very presence in Tel Aviv, a city that has kept Palestinians out via roadblocks for years. I also found myself questioning whether Israelis as a group are as averse to racial profiling as the Katzes and Keren are, and if the decision to paint Shaul, the one Jew who does express suspicion of Tarek, as a pompous buffoon wasn’t a subtle form of self-congratulation on the part of the Israeli director and screenwriters. I couldn’t help but wonder about how a Palestinian filmmaker would have approached this tale—or if a Palestinian would have chosen to tell this particular story at all.

In all fairness, however, this film wasn’t about the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This film is basically a movie about outcasts and how they often instinctively seek out and cling to other outcasts, battling loneliness while skirting the edges of society. For My Father also touches on the very human need to maintain reputation with the emotionally fraught bond between parents and children driving the story in surprising ways. I appreciated the fact that the story doesn’t insult the audience with a tacked-on happy-ending; there’s no way that a movie with a terrorist as leading man can end on an emotional high note.

Despite its over-idealized view of ethnic strife and pseudo-philosophical leanings, I am going to recommend For My Father on the strengths of its understated and powerful performances. But anyone expecting to get a crash course on the current state of Israeli-Palestinian resentments needs to look elsewhere.

Written by: Ebony Edwards-Ellis, June 18th 2010