Illegal immigration of Moroccan and French Jewry to Palestine at the end of World War II is a story that's TV miniseries worthy. But, Channel 1's Revivre (Lihyot Mihadash in Hebrew), a co-production with France's Arte Channel, just misses the boat in telling it.
Haim Bouzaglo, responsible for Tzinzana and The Yarkon District TV series and a co-writer of Hakayitz Shel Avia, does have good intentions - this is also the story of his father's arrival. But the first part of the six-part series was way too familiar to stand out.
The series opens with a striking image: a young woman's face and arms emerge from the ground, having survived the horrors of the war. She is the first of a series of formulaic characters that Bouzaglo introduces, all destined for the same ship to Palestine. Also boat bound are a Jewish boy taken in by his father's violinist friend from a local orchestra, a middle-aged woman who was turned away from her own home after her servants took it over, youngsters instilled with Zionist fervor as well as survivors of the camps struggling to make it on board somehow.
It's enough Zionist propaganda to fill a Jewish Agency library.
On hallowed Passover eve, as the Hagana representative arrives to make final preparations, the local rabbi addresses his flock. "For you, there is no more diaspora. I hope soon you'll be living in the land of our forefathers," he preaches. At his family's Passover Seder in Casablanca, Ashriel poignantly takes his sister Perla's hand as they read about how the Israelites left Egypt in haste. "Tonight, we are leaving Morocco," he tells his mother afterwards. What could be effective becomes clichÃ© melodrama - the building of a story way too predictable.
The scriptwriters can't avoid the schmaltz.
On a bus headed for the port of Marseille, one survivor, a teacher, recounts to an old woman who has lost all her family how she sees her loved ones in her nightmares, "Now, every time I go to sleep, I waitâ€¦ for the nightmares to return," she says.
Waiting on the seashore, there are scenes of the prospective immigrants praying, arguing and boxing. Just as the rabbis finish leading the group in a special prayer for the success of their mission, the boats arrive. There's even the good-hearted skipper, who agrees to take $2,000 off his fee for the voyage.
Things are made decidedly worse with the occasional insertion of variations of the Hatikva into the soundtrack, further hitting us over the head with the Zionist message. And, when aboard the boat, Ashriel turns to Perla to tell her that their father "sees us and he is very proud of us," it was a bit much - even for this Zionist, Israel-loving viewer.
On board, at first everything seems good because everyone gets along. "The clothes don't matter," says one Jew to another of the garb of the more religious types, "they're Jews, like us."
Such good nature is sustained for about 10 minutes before an argument ensues regarding an alleged theft. Though, just as a ruckus is about to break out, someone steps in and makes shalom.
Hooray! We're all great friends again, all headed to Eretz Yisrael.
Then, the Hagana chief aboard addresses them in broken English (much of the initial dialogue is in French, with Hebrew subtitles), "On board this ship today are just Jews, not Ashkenazim, Sephardim, just woman (sic), children and men who hope to get to Palestine soon."
Just wait till they're fighting for the same parking space.
Even the Jews awaiting their arrival on the shores of Palestine appeared well organized, for heaven's sake. We were surprised that no one danced the hora on board the ship, though the Moroccan Jews did shake their booties a bit before boarding.
A bit later, we learn of a spy, someone's in the telegraph room sending a message revealing the ship's location. "No one suspects. They think that I'm a Jew," he messages.
How's that for dramatic tension?
Certainly it's legitimate for Bouzaglo to want to tell his family's tale and that of his countrymen. But to do so using just about every clichÃ© - already seen in everything from Exodus to the propaganda reels shown in Zionist youth movements - doesn't really serve any purpose.
While the 5 million Euro production is well acted and obviously well-intended, we can only hope the remainder of the series is a bit more sophisticated. Maybe this series has more up its sleeve but, based on episode one, we'd be reluctant to book a long passage.
Revivre airs on Channel 1, Wednesdays at 9:45 p.m.