“The Little Traitor,” opening Nov. 13 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino, harkens back to 1947, when “Palestinians” referred to the Jewish inhabitants and the hated enemies were British soldiers wearing red berets.
The film, based on the semi-biographical novel “Panther in the Basement” by Amos Oz, combines the coming of age story of a young patriot with historical insights on the struggle for a Jewish state.
Proffy (short for “professor”) is an 11-year Jerusalem boy, who hates the British soldiers who occupy his land, impose strict curfews, and conduct midnight house raids.
With two like-minded playmates, he forms the “underground cell” FOD (“Freedom or Death”), which sprays “British Go Home” graffiti on walls and tries to disable a British convey by scattering nails on the road.
On most evenings, Proffy sneaks up to the rooftop to scan the roads for the British enemy through binoculars. Not infrequently, his attention strays to a lovely young woman in a neighboring apartment in various stages of undress.
One evening, Proffy, played with remarkable authenticity by Ido Port, is caught after curfew hours by British Sgt. Dunlop, played by a sympathetic, if slightly corpulent, Alfred Molina.
An unlikely but warm friendship develops between Proffy and the bible-reading soldier during mutual language lessons, in which Dunlop explains the meaning of “snooker” and Proffy introduced his friend to the subtleties of “meshuggah.”
After a short time, Proffy’s fellow young freedom fighters discover the relationship and denounce him as a traitor. Proffy is hauled before a Jewish Agency “court” and sternly examined by Thodore Bikel as an interrogator.
In one of its most emotional scenes, the film recreates the almost unbearable tension of the November 1947 vote by the United Nations, which will determine the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Families huddle around the radio, keeping score of each country’s vote, and then burst into the street in wild jubilation after the final count.
Lynn Roth, who directed “Little Traitor” and wrote the screenplay, is a veteran Hollywood writer and producer, who has won numerous awards, especially as showrunner (executive producer) of the long-running 1980s television series “The Paper Chase.”
She has also been a longtime teacher in the master class for Israeli filmmakers in the Los Angeles/Tel Aviv Partnership Program and said that she had dreamt for decades about making a film in Israel.
After extensive preparations, she began filming “Little Traitor” in the old Musrara quarter of Jerusalem in the summer of 2006, and three days into the project the Lebanon War broke out.
“It struck me as ironic that I was making a film about fighting in Palestine in 1947, and now, almost 60 years later, the bullets were flying again,” she said.
Despite such distractions, including the army call-up of some of her crewmembers, Roth “miraculously” completed shooting the film in 28 days.
Roth, a New York native, said she is bound to Israel by many ties, not least the graves of all four grandparents in the Jewish state.