You can trust this 'Traitor'

Amos Oz's novel 'Panther in the Basement' is successfully adapted for the screen in the skilled hands of Lynn Roth.

the little traitor 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
the little traitor 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
THE LITTLE TRAITOR 4 stars Written and directed by Lynn Roth. Based on the novel, Panther in the Basement, by Amos Oz. Hebrew title: Haboged Hakatan. 88 minutes. In English and Hebrew, with English titles. The story of an unlikely friendship that develops between a Jewish boy and a British soldier in 1947 Palestine, The Little Traitor is a moving and intelligent film. Based on the Amos Oz novel Panther in the Basement, the film brings the complexity of Oz's writing to the screen. But, it does so without being reverential and overly literary, as some Oz movie adaptations have been in the past. Director and screenwriter Lynn Roth doesn't forget that this is a movie first and an adaptation second. This gorgeous, beautifully scored and wonderfully acted film gives a vivid sense of the atmosphere and complexity of life in Jerusalem under the British Mandate. The Little Traitor looks at a period we've seen dramatized as a time of heroes and villains, and looks at another aspect of this era: The intimacy that can develop between sworn enemies. Proffi Leibowitz (Ido Port) is a bright kid who doesn't know he is living in a fraught period of history. His parents (Gilya Stern and Rami Heuberger), like those of most of his friends, are Holocaust survivors. They take life very seriously and worry about him constantly. Although they may seem timid at first glance, they are fiercely opposed to the British and dream of an independent Jewish State. And they don't only dream. At night, Proffi hears strange comings and goings. He knows his parents are secretly helping the Hagana hide illegal immigrants. Though, while his parents may take risks, they try to keep him as sheltered as they can. If he is home late for curfew, they are ready and waiting to punish him. But Proffi, who plans half-fantasy, half-real terror against the British with his friends, isn't afraid of the British - or the Arabs. He feels perfectly at home shopping in the Old City and running all over Jerusalem. But one day, while running home after curfew, he is caught by Sergeant Dunlop (Alfred Molina). He pretends to be menacing for a minute but then Dunlop brings the boy home. In that moment, though, each has grown curious about the other, and Proffi takes him up on an invitation to stop by a café where Dunlop goes to read. The thoughtful Dunlop, who reads the Bible and is learning Hebrew, wants to get to know Palestine and feels a special connection to Jerusalem. And Proffi is longing for attention from an adult who isn't constantly nagging him. When Proffi's buddies find out he is playing snooker with a Brit, however, the entire neighborhood turns against him. We root for the two and their regard for each other to triumph against the narrow-mindedness around them. But it's clear that the situation isn't simple. In the end, except for an awkward epilogue, the movie avoids any attempt at pat solutions of the "Why can't we all just get along?" variety. What makes the biggest impression here are the two leading actors. Ido Port, who also starred in Dear Mr. Waldman, gives a natural, heartfelt performance. Alfred Molina proves himself, once again, to be one of the most gifted actors working in movies today. You can remind yourself that you've seen him as the villain in Spider-Man 2, Diego Rivera in Frida or as the proper husband in Enchanted April while watching him here. And though his face might look familiar, it's nearly impossible to believe that you're seeing the same person. Molina exudes warmth and loneliness in this subtle, understated performance. His directness also makes it clear that his interest in Proffi is completely innocent. Had there been the faintest homosexual undertone in this story of an intense friendship between an adult man and a boy, it would have ruined the film. But it's clear that the boy is searching for, and has found, a kind of idealized father or older brother. The entire cast is excellent. Gilya Stern and Rami Heuberger are perfectly believable as Proffi's parents. Anat Klausner, the actress who made a splash in Frozen Days, is knowing and sexy as the neighbor Proffi falls in love with. Dialogue is mainly in English but the children speak to each other in Hebrew. While there are sensible reasons behind the decision to make it this way, it is jarring to hear the switching between the two languages. A minor reservation in a film that is original and complex.