Review / ‘Bethlehem’ (M) *** and a half

bethlehemIN writer/director Yuval Adler’s feature debut, Israeli secret-service officer Razi (Tsahi Halevi) is running a mole in an extremist group – Hamas, Palestinians, whatever; the film from its outset presents difficulties understanding exactly which group is which in the conflict on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Playing both sides of the fence, teenager Sanfur’s (Shadi Mar’i) current task is to locate his brother Ibrahim, the terrorist leader whom Razi has been pursuing for a year.

“Bethlehem”, so significant in the Christian faith, is a battlefield where fighters from all sides openly carry short arms. The film’s structure presents awkward contrasts between non-belligerents and fighters for whom life has scant value. Alliances between rival groups don’t last. Two members of different groups seem to be co-operating; one disposes of the other with as little concern as flushing a toilet.

Hollywood filmmakers could learn useful lessons from the energy, brio, verisimilitude and style with which Adler stages his quasi-military street-fighting. The inner workings of characters’ souls provide him and co-author Ali Wakad (who also plays a journalist) with fertile fields for exploration, cultivation and manipulation. The film’s bottom line is, who can you trust? For how long? And for what reason?

At Capitol 6

 

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