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DVD Review: ‘Aliyah’

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AliyahA young Parisian with what a recent romantic attachment calls “existential problems” decides it is time to seek a solution by making his aliyah (emigrating to Israel, a duty many Jews feel as an obligation). Life in Paris for Alex Raphaelson has little, if anything to keep him from the move. He works in a restaurant, but he really supports himself by dealing drugs. His immediate family is dysfunctional. His mother is dead.  He has little to do with his father who has moved on to a new family. His older brother Isaac is a leech who is only interested in what he can get from Alex. His ex-girlfriend is planning to get married.

So when he goes to a dinner for a cousin who has returned from Israel for a visit, and learns that he is planning to open a restaurant in Tel Aviv, it seems like a perfect opportunity for Alex to escape from the morass of Paris to start a new life. Everyone around him finds the idea ludicrous. No Zionist, he has never shown any interest in Israel. Indeed, he had ridiculed the cousin when he decided to make Aliyah. He is not religious, his attachment to Judaism is nil. He doesn’t speak Hebrew. Other than the cousin, he has no contacts in the country. Still he finds his life in Paris so impossibly oppressive that Israel becomes not only a viable option, it becomes a desirable goal.

Things become a little more complicated when he immediately learns that he needs a large amount of money to buy into the restaurant, and even more so when he meets a pretty gentile girl, a student, and there is an immediate attraction. Were he to stay put in Paris, something more than a few sexual encounters would seem a good possibility.

Alex is played with intense conviction by Pio Marmai. Brother Isaac is played by Cedric Kahn, an award winning director and screenwriter. Adele Haenel plays Alex’s love interest, Jeanne. It is a solid cast with a feeling for their characters, and keeping them real.

Directed by Elie Wajeman, who also has a screenwriting credit, the film was an official selection for the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.  She takes material that in some hands could become a noir thriller, and focuses equal attention on family relationships and emotional stress. Scenes like the Sabbath dinner for the cousin and the brother’s visit to their mother’s grave add a sense of low key realism that give the film its emotional spine. Physical violence is quite limited.

The French film with English subtitles is now available on DVD from Film Movement, a company that calls itself a “Film-Of-The-Month Club for new, award-winning Independent and foreign films.”

The DVD includes an interesting Israeli short called On the Road to Tel Aviv directed by Khen Shalem. It deals with a terrorist attack on a bus and the reaction of an assortment of Israelis when an isolated Arab woman boards a bus they are all going to ride on. It is a telling comment on the effects of terrorist activities on the lives of those living under constant threat. While Middle Eastern politics have little to do with Aliyah, On the Road to Tel Aviv sets them front and center in all their complexities.

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About Jack Goodstein