Thursday, November 1, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Cousin

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 12th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place November 1st-8th, 2018.

The Cousin
Directed by Tzahi Grad
Festival Information

Groups within society have an inherent distrust for the other, someone outside their community, nationality, religion, or any other possible divider. Normalized expectations of what people from various backgrounds should be doing, namely in regard to professional employment, can also lead to conflict, since an assumption of commitment to work and to a degree of honesty also prejudice people against each other. Among the many complicated facets of both Israeli and Palestinian societies is the work deemed suitable – and attainable – for people based on where they were born and where they live.

Naftali (Tzahi Grad) is an open-minded Israeli man with big goals for peace initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians. When he goes to pick up a handyman recommended by his gardener, he finds the man’s brother, Fahed (Ala Dakka) instead, and has him get started on a renovation project he’s been putting off for a long time. When a local woman is attacked, everyone in Naftali’s village immediately suspects his new Palestinian employee. Naftali may be eager to give him a chance, but he finds that nearly everyone around him, including his wife, is more than ready to believe that a Palestinian is likely to blame for whatever crime occurred in their Israeli village.

This is a perfect film to open the latest round of the Other Israel Film Festival, looking not at a hot-button subject like terrorism or developments but instead the simple interaction of Israelis and Palestinians as part of daily life. This film is billed as a comedy, mainly because it provides a humorous look at the way the most vocal members of the village seek to insert themselves into something that shouldn’t concern them, eager to find a scapegoat in part to make themselves feel more secure about the sanctity and homogeneity of their neighborhood. It’s a great specific instance that can easily be applied broadly to so many different areas and people in the world.

Grad serves as director, writer, and star of this film, playing Naftali as a man living in his own world, hopeful for the future and immune to the realities of those less open to new ideas. Dakka turns in an endearing performance as Fahed, who quickly becomes annoyed with his situation and the fact that he can’t get work done because of the way he’s being treated. This is an entertaining and enlightening experience, one that views serious real-life issues through an inviting comic lens.


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