Hanna’s Journey is a low-key comedy of manners about contemporary Germany and Israel, and how the destinies of these countries intersect. Its relaxed pace and low-key style won’t be for everyone, and the more you are interested in modern-day Germany, the more rewarding you will find it.
Although the movie takes place mainly in Israel, it starts out in Germany. Hanna (Karoline Schuch) is applying for a high-powered job with a large corporation. She finds herself competing against a bunch of ambitious young women who are all dressed like clones, in tailored, androgynous pantsuits.
Getting a tip from one of the interviewees who went before her, Hanna boasts to the humorless human resources committee that she is going to do volunteer work in Israel with the disabled and Holocaust survivors, and they are suitably impressed.
But Hanna has no intention of actually doing this work. She heads straight to her mother (Suzanne von Borsody), an engraver, and asks her to forge a certificate saying Hanna has already done the work.
But her mother, a left-wing radical who was absent for much of Hanna’s youth fighting for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, tells her there are no shortcuts – Hanna will actually have to go to Israel. So she flies to Tel Aviv, leaving behind her yuppie fiancé and promising to chat on Skype every day.
That’s the setup for the film, and it’s pretty clear that the self- centered Hanna will be changed by the people she encounters in Israel.
But her journey does take some unexpected twists and turns, and perhaps the most original aspect of the film is the way it plays with the themes of political correctness and those who live by ideology. Hanna is assigned to work at a group home for the mentally disabled on a kibbutz in the Tel Aviv area. There she meets Itay (Doron Amit), who flirts unabashedly with her but doesn’t take her seriously. After all, she’s a German, and in his eyes that means she doesn’t really count as a person – at least at first.
Although the well-groomed, punctual Hanna doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for the work she is given, she manages to form a bond with an intellectually disabled Israeli woman (Ophir- Award winning actress Sigalit Fuchs) who asks what time it is over and over. It’s believable how the goal-oriented Hanna takes on the challenge of teaching the woman how to tell time.
Some of the most pointed political/social commentary and comedy involve Hanna’s roommates in the ramshackle house she shares in Jaffa with fellow German volunteers. The orderly, put-together Hanna instantly becomes a more sympathetic figure when she agrees to put up with the dirt and chaos of this house, where there is wireless Internet but nothing else seems to work. One of her roommates thinks of herself as a firebrand activist because she paints banners that say, “Israhell,” and Hanna can barely conceal her impatience and disapproval.
Another subplot, in which Hanna works with an elderly Holocaust survivor (Lia Koenig) in Jerusalem and ends up learning some surprising truths about her own family, is less convincing.
As the film progresses, it seems to be that the relationship between Itay and Hanna, which should be the heart of the movie, isn’t the story that the director is really interested in telling. Itay, played with charm and conviction by Doron Amit, is a bit of a stereotypical sabra who starts out brash and tough and ends up all heart. And while Karoline Schuch is lovely and appealing as Hanna, she is not terribly expressive.
From the moment Hanna jumps on the plane to Israel, it’s obvious that this trip is going to make her less self-centered, conventional and judgmental. The director has written an intelligent story, and I imagine she knew that a romance between a German volunteer and an Israeli would become clichéd.
She does her best to avoid the clichés, but ends up somewhere in the middle. The film isn’t as predictable as a typical romantic comedy, but also isn’t as edgy and original as she (and the audience) might have hoped.
At its best moments, though, Hanna’s Journey is an affectionate and wryly funny look at Israel today and the German strangers among us.