Hope in a hard place

Jerusalem Film Festival award winner looks at Israel's underclass.

By
October 25, 2007 13:55
3 minute read.
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VASERMIL Three stars Directed and written by Mushon Salmona. Hebrew title: Vasermil. 93 minutes. In Hebrew, Russian and Amharic, with Hebrew titles. Anyone who gets an idea of what Israeli life is like solely from the movies would be forgiven for thinking Tel Aviv residents are plagued by the most troublesome problems, since so many films deal with alienation in that city. But as anyone who lives here knows, Tel Aviv is considered a desirable place to live. It's Beersheba, the beleaguered capital of the Negev, that is the most troubled of Israel's major cities. Now Mushon Salmona's carefully observed, complex film Vasermil looks at the difficult reality Beersheba's citizens face. Vasermil, which won the Jury Prize at this summer's Jerusalem Film Festival, is named after the soccer stadium in Beersheba. In the film, Vasermil is the one place where there is any hope of advancement or unity. The film depicts Beersheba as a city of immigrants (Russian and Ethiopian) and children of immigrants - all of them struggling to make a living. Crime is an ever-present temptation, and violence is always a threat. It's certainly tempting to try and ignore the fact that thousands of Israelis live like this, but this film is an earnest and straightforward plea not to forget. And for those who live in Beersheba, director Salmona is saying that forgetting such hard facts is not an option. The story centers on three teens recruited by a coach to play on a municipal soccer team. Shlomi (Nadir Eldad) works as a pizza delivery boy - an occupation that makes him easy prey for thieves (who want the motorcycle he rides) and exposes him to the violent wrath of his boss. Adiel (Adiel Zamro), who is from an Ethiopian family, has a single mother who is mentally ill and a younger brother he has to care for. Adiel is a gifted soccer player, but doesn't realize that his talent could lead him somewhere, so he often sits around with his brother sniffing glue. Dima (David Teplitzky), a recent Russian immigrant, has to contend with an unemployed father who drinks and beats him (or tries to). Dima's mother, a cleaning lady, is ambitious and protective, but works so many hours that there's a limit to how well she can supervise him. Although all three are basically good kids, it's easy to see how they could be drawn into drugs and crime. And since all three suffer from violence on an almost daily basis - via other teens, their families and, in the case of Shlomi, his boss - it isn't clear to them that they have anything to lose by turning to a life of crime. But the film is more than a study of Beersheba's social ills. Salmona tries and mainly succeeds in creating characters who are truly human, not symbols of social injustice. He is helped in this by his trio of gifted non-professional actors - Eldad, Zamro and Teplitzky - all naturals in front of the camera. He also has an eye for the look and feel of the teens' lives and creates moments of visual poetry out of the ragged urban landscape, like in a scene in which Adiel and his brother watch the sun set over a hill as they get high. The story meanders at times, and the focus on soccer and the Vasermil stadium doesn't give the plot the coherence it could. Yet Vasermil is an impressive debut for Salmona and his actors; he is clearly a filmmaker to watch. It will be interesting to see if he continues to chronicle life in Beersheba or moves on to tell other stories.

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