Sunday, November 6, 2022

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Razzouk Tattoo

I’m delighted to be returning for the eighth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of thought-provoking and often difficult, complex, Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 16th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually and in-person November 3rd-10th, 2022.

Razzouk Tattoo
Directed by Orit Ofir Ronell
Ticket Information

While much of the conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict centers on Jews and Muslims, there is also another significant religious population that has deep ties to the land: Christians. Among those Christians who have lived in Jerusalem for centuries is the Razzouk family, renowned for the tattoos they have etched onto pilgrims visiting a holy place. The heir to the dynasty, Wassim Razzouk, knows the art but still has plenty of questions about his own lineage and what may have been lost over the course of family disputes.

Wassim is seen mostly either in his tattoo parlor speaking to American visitors who are interested in getting a tattoo or on the go attempting to get answers to the holes in his history that he seeks to fill. He explains to one inquisitive customer that he has two sons but that he expects only one of them to follow him in the family business, noting that teenagers are also fickle and may have no idea what it is they will want in the future. He also knows the dangers of working with close relatives, something that has caused rifts in previous generations of his family.

Director Orit Ofir Ronell, whose first film “The King of Börek” dug into her own ancestors, Bulgarian bakers, manages to extract a great deal of information from Wassim and his surviving family members. They discuss rumors of how one parent might have killed another, and how that gossip still remains years later when they go to speak with influential figures who Wassim and his cousin believe may be able to provide some of the crucial clues to piece together where things went wrong and how they can retrieve what may have gone missing, if it’s even still possible to reclaim.

“Razzouk Tattoo” exposes a facet of Israeli society that is inherently religious but retains a different bond to Jerusalem and Israel that its adherents express most intensely in what the marks they make on their skin, something that is typically forbidden by both Jewish and Muslim law. Wassim exists in a bubble of sorts, operating freely but also lacking a groundswell of support that could ensure the survival of his business and the historical meaning that comes with it for generations. This documentary provides an intimate look at someone whose work truly is his passion, a vibrant instance of someone whose craft is also his life.


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