In 'For My Father,' A Bridge-Building Too Far?

Shredi Jabarin and Hili Yalon

Unlikely Couple: An alienated soccer star from the Palestinian city of Nablus, Tarek (Shredi Jabarin, foreground) meets Keren (Hili Yalon) near a bustling market in Tel Aviv — where Tarek, in an effort to save his father, intends to blow himself up. FilmMovement hide caption

itoggle caption FilmMovement

For My Father

  • Director: Dror Zahavi
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Not rated: Violence, ethnic hostility

With: Shredi Jabarin, Hili Yalon, Shlomo Vishinsky

A Palestinian suicide bomber becomes just another outcast in a shabby Tel Aviv neighborhood in For My Father, an Israeli fable of cross-cultural empathy, and if director Dror Zahavi doesn't go so far as to contrive a happy ending, he does put a cheerful spin on conflicts that don't inspire much optimism.

Nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards in 2008, For My Father is earnest and well-meaning. But it's also glib and sentimental, and significantly less incisive than Paradise Now, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad's 2005 film on the same subject.

For My Father's central character, Tarek (Shredi Jabarin), is scheduled to blow himself up in a popular street market. He's taken this assignment not because he hates Israelis, although he does resent the West Bank security checkpoints that have ended his soccer career. Tarek has chosen death to restore the honor of his father, who has been condemned as a collaborator.

While Tarek is being ferried across the border by two squabbling handlers, the movie introduces a neighborhood full of unhappy stories. Romanian-bred Katz (Shlomo Vishinsky) presides over a run-down electrical supply store, brooding over his life's great loss. For some reason, the old man loses his cool whenever water is mentioned.

Hili  Yalon i i

Estranged from her Orthodox family, the free-spirited Keren has set up shop in the city, where an accident of fate brings her and Tarek together. FilmMovement hide caption

itoggle caption FilmMovement
Hili  Yalon

Estranged from her Orthodox family, the free-spirited Keren has set up shop in the city, where an accident of fate brings her and Tarek together.

FilmMovement

Across the street, a lovely but lonely young woman runs a newsstand: Keren (Hili Yalon) is estranged from her Orthodox family, and is the target of young zealots who want to punish her for such offenses as living alone and wearing short skirts.

When the bomb strapped to his chest fails to detonate, Tarek rushes from the market and finds himself on Katz's and Keren's street. Spotting the electrical shop, Tarek orders a new switch for the bomb but is told it will take two days to arrive. Soon, Tarek is repairing Katz's roof, and joining the old man and his wife for a Romanian-style dinner and an explanation of his water mania. Then Tarek defends Keren from the Orthodox zealots, beginning a friendship that flirts with romance.

Some in the neighborhood are suspicious of the Palestinian, but most people are friendly, and Tarek's standing improves after the locals see how well he handles a soccer ball.

Tarek genuinely likes his new acquaintances and has no intention of killing them. But he still plans to detonate the bomb in the market as soon as the new switch arrives. If he doesn't, occasional cell phone calls from the West Bank remind him, his parents are at risk.

The film's lesson is reasonable: Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews have much in common and might like each other if properly introduced. But the scenario (by scripters Ido Dror and Jonatan Dror) probably overestimates how quickly such rapport could be established. Too much comes too easily: Katz's despair evaporates as abruptly as Keren's apprehension, and Tarek is curiously accepting of Keren's sexy style and outgoing character. (Never mind that some Muslims, too, have been known to disapprove of independent women.)

Constructed as a parable, For My Father comes well outfitted with ironic parallels and "teachable moments." But while the movie might inspire classroom discussions, it's too idealized to have much real-world impact.

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