Movie Review: Israelis abroad on screen

RESTLESS * Written and directed by Amos Kollek. Hebrew title: Haser Menucha. 100 minutes. In Hebrew and English, with Hebrew and English titles Amos Kollek, son of former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, has been making movies for over 20 years, but if someone had told me that Restless, his latest effort, was his first film, I would have believed them. The film stars Moshe Ivgy as Moshe, a struggling, cynical Israeli jewelry salesman, huckster and aspiring poet living in New York. He reconnects with Tzach (Ron Danker), the son he abandoned as a baby, attempting to mix the personal with the political, but the result is a mess. The incoherence and facile leftist sloganeering of Moshe's poetic tirades against Israel, which he declaims at a nightclub (and which are improbably applauded by an audience of Israeli ex-pats), would be laughable and/or offensive were they not so dull. The story of Tzach is no less implausible, but far more enjoyable to watch, since Danker, the stunning star of the TV soap-opera Our Song, has a strong screen presence and gives a credible dramatic performance here. An Israeli soldier, who is a crack sniper in the West Bank, buries his sorrows about the death of his alcoholic mother and his absent father by devoting himself to the IDF. But after he accidentally shoots a Palestinian boy, he is asked to leave the army and then goes off on a drunken binge with a group of Palestinians who know he has just left the military (and don't kidnap him). Eventually, he ends up in New York and confronts his father, with predictable results. Meanwhile, Moshe has found love with a hard-boiled waitress with a heart of gold, played by Karen Young, who will be familiar to Sopranos fans as the undercover FBI agent who forces Adriana to become an informant. Trying to figure out where I'd seen Young before kept me occupied for most of Restless, but now that you've read this, you won't be so lucky. STRANGERS *** Written and directed by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv.85 minutes. Hebrew title: Zarim. In English, Hebrew, Arabic, and French, check with theaters for information on titles. Strangers is a well-acted, well-made and well-intentioned film that never quite comes alive. It is the story of Eyal (Liron Levo), an Israeli kibbutznik, and Rana (Lubna Azabal), a Palestinian from Ramallah, who meet in Europe by chance and fall in love. The movie is too studied in its attempt to use their relationship as a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That said, there are some strong moments between these two very appealing actors (Levo is Israeli, while Azabal, who also starred in Paradise Now, is Moroccan/Belgian), who have real chemistry with each other. The film begins in Germany, where Eyal plans to reconnect with his German girlfriend, and Rana, who lives in France, has gone to cheer on the French team in the World Cup finals. It starts out promisingly, as the two are pleasantly surprised by their mutual attraction. But the action moves to Paris and focuses on arguments with Rana's lefty friends over the second Lebanon War. Then Rana faces a personal crisis in which her trendy Parisian friends abandon her, but Eyal steps in to care for her young son, and the action becomes progressively less compelling. One aspect of this film that raises it above most movies attempting to deal with the conflict is the fact that Eyal discusses and sometimes defends Israeli policies without coming off as a mindless rightist. Rana, although she disagrees with Eyal on many points, finds that her outlook is changed by her connection to him. So many of these films start out with their characters representing fixed, opposing attitudes, that it is much to the directors' credit that they are able to present such a nuanced dialogue and put it in the mouths of characters who, for the most part, are believable. In spite of its flaws, Strangers held my interest. It didn't drag and it was certainly enjoyable to watch these two attractive actors against the backdrop of urban Europe. Those who enjoy political debate may find the arguments presented compelling and may overlook the overly-schematic, student-film style.