In cinema, there are very few accidents and -- given the opposites attract plotline of director Michael Eldridge’s Homeland -- there’s a reason that the one-sheet poster for West Side Story is prominently hanging on the wall of our heroine’s neighbor.
Namely, as we watch this finely crafted yet admittedly sometimes logically impaired tale of Israeli boy meets Palestinian girl in New York City, we know that although things might be fine for the time being, we have the ominous sense that our would be lovers will not live happily ever after. For, we quickly realize that it’s the people in their lives and not just the politics that will rise up to cause many a challenge as the movie continues.
Saving up enough money to escape to South America where he can blow off some steam after completing his mandatory military service back in Israel, New York transplant Kobi (Max Rhyser) works alongside his best friend in a Brooklyn ice cream parlor where in between scoops of “chocolate chocolate chocolate” he first catches sight of the lovely eighteen year old high school student Leila (Yifat Sharabi).
Guessing that the cute boy behind the register is either Italian or Greek, Leila and her friends return on a regular basis where quickly an attachment between the girl and boy forms over mutual interest in a loaned book -- Being and Nothingness as a nod to existentialism and free will – and hidden notes that Leila leaves on the table letting Kobi know where he can meet her to chat.
Keeping her budding romance a secret from everyone except her diary, the couple overcomes their initial hesitation and internal prejudices about one another to realize that they have much more in common than they would’ve previously assumed.
But as Leila’s brother becomes increasingly radicalized to the point that he draws the attention of the F.B.I. nearly overnight in an overly dramatic and slightly unbelievable sour note in an otherwise lovely film, we realize even before our modern day West Side Story duo does that real life will put a stop to their rendezvous.
And while budget was surely an issue for this film festival winner when we must overlook some gaps in common sense such as Leila choosing to hide next door (really?) when her brother is on the warpath and the first burst of violence shakes up the tone of the film from adorably wholesome and sweet to darkly foreboding, overall it’s a very impressive effort from director Eldridge and screenwriter Brad Rothschild.
Likewise, despite the fact that it lacks the poignancy and polish of Israel’s For My Father -- another similarly themed work I caught within the last week – one can’t argue with the boldness of the work and its ability to make an audience think about the situation overseas by viewing it through the eyes of two idealistic young lovebirds who only want to find a place they can be together without judgments or “sides.”
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.