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"Bethlehem": Israel, Palestine, and the Secrets They Swap 

Wednesday, Mar 5 2014

By virtue of timing, and of temperament, the Israeli film Bethlehem seems fated to serve as a sort of flip-side companion piece to the Palestinian Oscar nominee Omar. Both are raw thrillers about a young Palestinian informant for the Israeli secret service — and both, ironically, given the package-deal mentality about them, draw power from stout resistance to a binary worldview. As its title implies, Bethlehem, in which Israeli writer-director Yuval Adler makes his feature debut, working with Palestinian co-writer Ali Waked, takes a broad view of political rivalries. In this case, the informant is an understandably sullen teenager (Shadi Mar'i), who seems highly volatile from the moment we meet him: Barely a minute into the movie he's shouting demands at another kid to shoot him with a Kalashnikov. This eventually prompts a paternal talking-to from his Shin Bet handler (Tsahi Halevi), who advises him to find new friends. "The people we hang out with, that's who we are," the man says. Meanwhile, the handler's own superiors are planning an operation for which the young informant will serve as bait to lure his older brother, a mass-murdering terrorist, into an assassination. As with Omar, the story ends brutally, and with the magnitude of tragedy. And as with that film, our ability to evaluate a political appraisal seems complicated not just by our own point of view, if any, but also by the filmmakers' encouragement to enjoy the movie as a thriller. Which isn't to say that thrillers can't be politically serious; they certainly can, especially when seeming to call out to one another.

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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