Judge Daryl Loomis will do anything for his father...except bathe him, so quit asking, Dad!
48 hours to choose between life and death.
There are few issues more hot-button today as the Israeli blockade of the Palestinians. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, you don't make a lot of fans by talking about it. In For My Father, Israeli director Dror Zahavi tries to avoid heavy political statements and just tell a story of star-crossed love, but his choice of subject simply leaves too big an elephant in the room to ignore.
Facts of the Case
Tarek (Shredi Jabarin) is a young Palestinian soccer player who has crossed the blockade into Tel Aviv on a suicide bombing mission. He gets to the crowded marketplace and is all set to do the deed, but when he presses the button, much to his surprise, the bomb doesn't go off. He finds somebody who can fix it, but it'll take two days, so he has to walk around the city with a jacket full of dynamite that he can't take off. Over these two days, the Israeli people he encounters make him question the hatred he was raised on. Now he doesn't want to go through with it, but the terrorist group he works for is out to make sure that he does.
For My Father is a well made film with good performances and solid direction, but the story is often so frustrating that the two sides almost completely cancel each other out. Strictly as a romance, the film works fine, with likable characters in a believably difficult situation. Tarek doesn't exactly want to blow himself up for the cause. He's been taught to hate Israelis, but he has only gone this far because the terrorist group threatened to kill his father. Once Tarek agrees to go through with the deed, they strap the jacket onto him. If he takes it off or tries to disconnect the wires, it explodes. More than that, they attach a phone to him that they can use to blow the bomb remotely. The guy is pretty much up a creek at this point; saving his father is more important to him than his life, and there's not much he can do about it anyway, so off to the market he goes.
After the device fails, Tarek wanders into the neighborhood of outcasts where most of the film takes place. There, he meets Katz (Shlomo Vishinski), the repair man who agrees to fix the detonator (without knowing its function), and Keren (Hili Yalon), the beautiful shopkeeper who lives and works across the way. Katz and his wife are an old Romanian couple whose son has recently died fighting in the Israeli army. They know Tarek has nowhere to go so, while waiting for the detonator, they feed and house him, treating him something like a son. In spite of his prejudices, he is grateful for the safety they afford him. It's when he meets Keren, however, that his world completely changes. She has been ostracized by her family for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage. Now, she tries to make her own way, running her shop and living how she wants, but she faces constant harassment from traditionalists offended by the way she dresses. Tarek is enchanted by her and sees that he can help her. Their relationship begins to blossom, but with each tick of the clock Tarek knows that the time when he'll have to commit the act draws near. His resignation to this fact allows him to live, to love, and to rid himself of the hatred he was brought up to feel.
In terms of believability, the romance moves too fast and comes too easily. It's strange that an Islamic suicide bomber would so readily accept an independent woman like Keren. Inattention to details such as this make the love story unbelievable, but where the plot lacks, the execution is strong. Zahavi shows confidence in his direction with an understated but consistent style. The gorgeous desert vistas and streets of Tel Aviv are given a yellowish hue that, while not always the most flattering color for the skin tone of the characters, makes the film feel as hot as the land where they live. The characters are made equally effective by strong performances from the whole cast. Shredi Jabarin and Hili Yalon make an attractive couple who are easy to root for, even if their fate is already written. Sholomo Vishinski turns in an excellent performance in his supporting role as the grieving father who sees his own opportunity to make right by acting as a father figure to Tarek. Even through all the schmaltz, it's worth watching for the performances.
The DVD from Film Movement is average in every way. The anamorphic image has some grain present, but few noticeable transfer errors and nicely saturated colors. The stereo sound is easy to hear, but not terribly dynamic. The sole extra on this disc is a short film, Ali & the Ball, directed by Australian filmmaker Alex Holmes. It's a cute but depressing fifteen minute tale about a boy in a prison camp and the unique relationship he develops with the daughter of one of the guards.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As a simple romance, For My Father works fine, but the way the director handles the subject matter is terrible. Apparently, there are two kinds of Palestinians in the world of this film: terrorists and Tarek. Granted, Tarek is a terrorist too, but he's been forced into the action, so he can be forgiven. Zahavi shows us a wide variety of Israelis, good and bad, tolerant and bigoted. He gives no such nuanced view of the Palestinians, who are all seething, violent fanatics. Zahavi claims in his notes that "it is as important as can be to make a film that shows the human beings on both sides." If he really wanted that, he failed; you could hardly plan a more one-sided view of the situation.
For My Father is, ultimately, a frustrating experience. I liked some of the characters and, though it's kind of cheesy, I enjoyed the way the story unfolded on a basic level. With the exception of the main character, the treatment of the Palestinians is a deal breaker. It left a terrible taste in my mouth and it's tough to recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Short Film
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