Directed by Keren Yedaya
Jaffa is an effective drama that views the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of young love.
As the feature selection in Film Movement's DVD-of-the-month club, the liner notes for Jaffa offer a brief explanation as to why the movie was selected: "... mostly it is a testament to the power of love overcoming all obstacles and circumstances." That must be the rose-colored glasses interpretation.
Mali (Dana Ivgy) is a 21-year-old Israeli girl working in her father's car repair shop. She works there with Meir (Roy Assaf), her ill-tempered, do-nothing brother; a Palestinian man named Hassan (Hussein Yassin Mahajneh); and his son, Toufik (Mahmoud Shalaby). Mali is pregnant with Toufik's child and they're planning on eloping, since their love affair would shame their families.
Being young and pregnant out of wedlock should be enough for any girl to contend with, but Mali's brother makes things all the worse by ratcheting up the tension at work. He'd like to fire his Palestinian co-workers, but his father, Reuven (Moni Moshonov) sees the simple business necessity: They work twice as hard and twice as fast as his own deleterious son.
Mali's world begins to crumble when Meir's belligerent nature boils over in the garage, erupting into a fight with Toufik. It's a disastrous scene, with terrible consequences. Her engagement called off, Mali considers having an abortion but simply can't follow through. She confesses to her parents that she's pregnant, but says the father is a married man whom she is no longer seeing.
Jaffa is an interesting cultural study. The story unfolds at the right pace to properly introduce the characters, establish a warmth toward Mali and Toufik, then keep things tense as this tale of two families veers off in two different directions.
From top to bottom, the cast is terrific. Hopefully Dana Ivgy will make her way into American movies, following in the footsteps of another terrific Israeli actress, Ayelet Zurer. Mix in Shushan's atmospheric score and Keren Yedaya's direction, heavily influenced by Egyptian cinema, and the result is an evocative work that engages the mind and the heart.
Going back to the liner notes, an excerpt from an interview with director Yedaya makes mention of her desire to create a subversive work of art that finds a wider audience via the broader appeal of a romantic story. The degree to which Jaffa can be considered "subversive" is debatable. Is it too sympathetic to Toufik's side of the story? Perhaps. Mali, though, is also most certainly a sympathetic character. The story draws its power from a cultural situation that can lead to an intransigence that will not bend, even when confronted by familial needs.
The supplemental materials directly related to Jaffa are sparse. The theatrical trailer is included as well as a brief biography of Keren Yedaya. The liner notes also offer some interesting comments from the director.
The cool thing about Film Movement's DVD series is the inclusion of a short film that complements the main feature in terms of theme and subject matter.
In this case, Lost Paradise is a 10-minute short, also from Israel, which depicts a far more scandalous romantic tryst. Few words are spoken. The imagery conveys everything. It's most definitely worth watching and thinking about.
There are also trailers for six movies from the Film Movement catalog that are worth checking out from a multi-cultural perspective.
For more information about Film Movement's DVD club, check out their site, FilmMovement.com.
Picture and Sound
The picture quality of both the feature and the short is quite good. Contrasts hold well and there is a nice feeling of watching a filmed work instead of a CGI-laden, airbrushed piece of Hollywood cinema.
The feature and short are both presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. While that's certainly not a showcase spec, it suits the material well enough. The sound is particularly effective when Shushan's score fills the soundtrack.
For Jaffa, the option is available to watch the movie with or without English subtitles (it was filmed in Hebrew). Lost Paradise is an English short.
One nit-picky note: There is a discrepancy between the Jaffa subtitles and packaging, which spell Mali's lover as "Toufik," but the end credits and trailer spell it "Tawfik." Simply putting that out there for the record.
How to Use This Disc
Watch Jaffa then Lost Paradise. Then think. It's a complicated world out there.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.