DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
STRANGERS (ZARIM) (director/writer: Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv; cinematographer: Ram Shweky; editor: Yuval Orr; music: Eyal Kaztav Leon; cast: Liron Levo (Eyal Goldman), Lubna Azabal (Rana sweid), Abdallah El Akal (Rashid sweid), Patrick Albenque (Semi jan), Mila Dekker (Simon), Dominique Lollia (Samira Shalach); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Chilik Michaeli/Avraham Pirchi/Tami Leon; KimStim/Zeitgeist releases; 2007-Israel/Spain-in Hebrew/Arabic/English/French-with English subtitles)

"A warm love story despite its harsh background war story."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
 
Israeli co-directors and co-writers Erez Tadmor ("A Matter of Size") and Guy Nattiv ("Mabul") beautifully set-up an unlikely romance between an Israeli man and Palestinian woman who meet by chance in Berlin at the 2006 World Cup finals. It plays out as an updated politically perceptive adult version of Romeo and Juliet, that remains a warm love story despite its harsh background war story.

Soccer fans Eyal Goldman (Liron Levo) and Rana sweid (Lubna Azabal), visiting Berlin for the World Cup, retrieve their backpacks after they were mistakenly swapped on a subway. Despite their opposing backgrounds, he is from an Israeli kibbutz and she is a Palestinian from occupied Ramallah now living in Paris, they are attracted to each other and spend six days together in Berlin where they share an apartment, read poems, chain-smoke, attend soccer matches and finally make love. Rana suddenly bolts for Paris after a phone call, but doesn't tell Eyal why--only that she doesn't want him to call because it won't work. Meanwhile the headlines explode at the outbreak of the brutal second war in Lebanon between the Hezbollah and Israelis, where the main causalities are civilians on both sides.

The lovestruck Eyal follows Rana to Paris, and discovers she's residing there for five years as an illegal and that she left Ramallah because she was pregnant from a married man and her family could not support that decision to keep the baby because it goes against their traditional beliefs. When the head-strong single mom is arrested by immigration police for not having a proper ID after taking her French-born son Rashid (Abdallah El Akal) to the hospital for his severe asthma attack and the sensitive Eyal gets drafted, the couple must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their many obstacles that include the wide gulf between their cultural backgrounds, hostile reactions to Eyal from her Parisian Arab friends and the lovebird's need for acceptance in their own communities and families. 

Tadmor and Nattiv in 2004 showed a short film called Strangers at Sundance. It was well received and the filmmakers thereby received funding to develop the idea into a full-length feature. The movie operated without a script which worked because it established a refreshing natural feel, especially since the leads had a great chemistry together and made their affair most believable. The cryptic ending, suggesting that perhaps love conquers all, is a harder sell since their forbidden romance seems to be on shaky grounds when it's tested in today's poisonous Middle East climate. The last shot shows a drafted Eyal returning to Rana's flat while she's asleep, which leaves it open as to what happens next. Though if the soldier indeed deserts, as implausible as that may be, at least that ending leaves us with some hope that the victimized individuals have it in their power to overcome the divisions caused by the ongoing conflict. This shout out for tolerance in that part of the world might be the only sane message to send about eventually halting that seemingly endless bloody conflict and this film delivers the message effectively without taking sides.

REVIEWED ON 9/22/2011       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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