Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
At the beginning of the wise and touching Israeli film A Trumpet in the Wadi, Huda, a Christian Arab woman who works at an Israeli travel agency in Haifa, turns thirty.
Played by the soulful Arab Israeli actress Khawlah Hag-Debsy, Huda is considered unmarriageable because she once broke an engagement to a man she "did not love enough to marry."
Her forceful mother (Salwa Nakkara) prefers to ignore Huda's birthdays, which just remind her of her daughter's sad situation, and this birthday is no exception. However, Huda's Jewish colleagues, whose affection and respect for her are apparent, buy Huda a book of poetry by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Ironically, as we learn from their conversation, Huda knows more about Amichai than do her kind but nonintellectual Israeli friends.
At certain moments in A Trumpet in the Wadi, such as that travel agency scene, the Jewish and Arab characters treat each other as individuals rather than as representatives of their ethnic groups, and the potential for peace in the Middle East is achingly clear.
However, the film is too realistic to leave us with that impression. It balances the hopeful moments with an illuminating depiction of how the conflict impinges on a relationship that could offer two lonely lovers--a Christian Arab and a Jew--what they very much want and need.
Based on a book by Iraqi-born Israeli novelist Sami Michael, and told from the point of view of Huda's family, the film offers fascinating glimpses of life within an Arab home and community. According to comments Khawlah Hag-Debsy made while introducing the film at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, "a number of the Arab actors on the set provided input into how the Arab characters should act."
Some of the film's most affecting scenes observe Huda and her younger sister Mery (Raeda Adon) in the bedroom they share, teasing each other and revealing secrets while also trying to maintain some degree of privacy. Other powerful scenes depict Arab women gathering to gossip or peeking out their windows to observe life on the street.
Although Huda's family resides in an Arab neighborhood, Alex (Aleander Senderovich), an recent impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant, has found inexpensive housing in their apartment building. Finding himself locked out of his apartment one day, Alex knocks on their door. He takes an immediate interest in Huda, who finds his trumpet playing moving and enjoys his comic manner. Alex and Huda share an appreciation of literature and poetry, and soon discuss these topics as Huda, who is fluent in Hebrew, teaches him the language. Alex adds sparkle, fun, and intellectual stimulation to Huda's humdrum existence, and she offers friendship and acceptance to a lonely outsider in a foreign land.
It is Mery who encourages the tentative romance between Huda and Alex, realizing that Alex may be Huda's last chance to find love. A free spirit compared to her sister, Mery appears unconcerned that Alex is Jewish.
Huda's mother, however, despite her hope that Huda will find a partner, does not want to encourage the relationship. Watching her struggle with conflicting emotions over Huda's romance with Alex is one of the strongest parts of the film.
But the most intense struggles occurs within Huda, who is torn between her wish to marry Alex and her loyalty to her people. When the two sisters and their boyfriends return in a jubilant mood from a vacation in Eilat--during which Huda and Alex decided to marry--they are greeted with somber relatives who have come to mourn a cousin killed by the Israelis in the intifada. Huda's mother prevents Alex from joining the family, saying she doesn't want to offer him any food or hospitality. Though Alex expects Huda to leave with him, she is reluctant to align herself with an Israeli and chooses to stay with her family.
Later, when Alex discovers that he has been called to serve in the army, Huda once again identifies with her people rather than with him. Her immediate response is to be angry with him and demand that he not harm any Arabs. Hurt, Alex expresses his disappointment that she isn't concerned for his safety.
Although they had previously agreed to marry, Huda is too conflicted to go through with the wedding before Alex leaves for army duty. Sadly, he is soon killed by an Arab.
At the end, we learn that Huda is pregnant with Alex's child. Although we can hope that the next generation will find a way to overcome the barriers to mutual love and understanding between Arabs and Jews in the Promised Land, the opposite seems equally possible.
Sensitively directed by the husband and wife team of Lina and Slava Chaplin, the film succeeds in creating rounded characters who go far beyond any stereotypes of Arab and Jew, and moving scenes that reveal larger issues in intimate moments. The acting is uniformly superb, and the film offers an honest depiction of tensions confronting Arabs and Jews who attempt to create romantic relationships in Israel today.
Look for A Trumpet in the Wadi at your local Jewish film festival.