Sunday, December 6, 2020

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Laila in Haifa

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 14th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually December 3rd-10th, 2020.

Laila in Haifa
Directed by Amos Gitai
Ticket Information

One conversation can provide a window into who people are, but it doesn’t present the entire picture. What someone says and communicates is influenced by their experiences, their moods, and what their aims are. Two people inherently come from different places and motivations, and the way that they interact has an effect that shapes the response each gives the other. Plenty of information can be gleaned merely from listening to the manner in which two people talk to each other, observing what they offer, what they omit, and what they learn as a result of their willingness – or refusal – to listen.

In Haifa, a number of people come together as they spend one night at a club, discussing art, identity, occupation, romance, and much more. At the center is Laila (Maria Zreik), who owns an art gallery and is married to wealthy Palestinian mogul Kamal (Makram J. Khoury). Laila is also involved with Israeli photographer Gil (Tsahi Halevi), who wants to showcase the notions of organized resistance that Kamal seeks instead to avoid. Kamal receives his own call to action from Bahira (Bahira Ablassi), a woman deeply involved in Palestinian causes who demands his attention. Other personalities include Naama (Naama Preis), Gil’s sister who has her own relationship issues.

This multi-character ensemble piece is reminiscent of another Israeli film that played at an American festival several years ago, “Six Acts.” It moves gracefully from scene to scene, inviting those seen earlier back for reappearances as they have the opportunity to interact with another person and reveal a new part of themselves. While Laila gets title billing, she’s merely one of the people with a strong opinion about who she is and what she believes, and it’s Bahira and Naama who strand out most vividly, making an intense impression as they impart their perspectives on their conversation partners.

This film is involving because it constantly offers something new throughout the course of its runtime, moving from what moment that may be less intriguing to some to another that could be of more interest. It plays out in a narrative format even if it’s really just a collection of assembled scenes whose content might be more expected in a play than a film. As a portrait of the multicultural nature of Haifa and the vast spectrum of attitudes and identities contained within it, this film is an eye-opening and thought-provoking thesis containing some memorable performances and statements.


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