Suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are daunting topics, even for risk-taking young Israeli directors, but two feature movies on the subject screening at the Israel Film Festival are remarkable for their unexpected sensitivity and humanity.
Although each picture was made independent of the other, they complement each other perfectly.
“For My Father,” seen mainly from the bomber’s perspective, shows the road leading up to the inhuman deed. By contrast, “Seven Minutes in Heaven” explores the long-range impact of a bus bombing on a survivor.
In “For My Father,” also titled “Weekend in Tel Aviv,” Tarek, a young West Bank Palestinian, faces a dilemma that might be humorous if the circumstances weren’t so deadly.
Dispatched to blow himself up in Tel Aviv’s bustling Carmel outdoor marketplace at the height of Friday’s pre-Shabbat shopping rush, Tarek discovers at the climactic moment that the switch to set off his explosive belt isn’t working.
He finds a small electric store, run by an eccentric and embittered Romanian Jew, who regrets that it’ll take until Sunday morning to order the new part.
Tarek, who passes himself off as an Arab worker at a nearby construction project, now has time on his hands. He patches the roof for Mr. Katz, the Romanian storeowner, and in return gets dinner, a place to sleep, and insight into the troubles and sorrows of his host.
The Palestinian is handsome, in a brooding sort of way, and was a rising soccer star on the Nazareth Maccabi team.
Next to Katz’s store is a small soft-drink and coffee kiosk, run by Keren, a young Jewish woman who has been banished by her observant father for her unseemly ways and short skirts.
When some neighborhood Orthodox bullies attack Keren, Tarek comes to her defense, and the Arab man and the Jewish woman fall almost instantly in love.
In one of the movie’s odd funny-tragic interludes, Keren invites Tarek to a night beach party and urges him to join her for a dip in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, Tarek is still wearing his malfunctioning suicide belt and awkwardly declines the invitation.
To reveal more would be a spoiler, but the film by Dror Zahavi proves again with what humanity Israeli filmmakers are willing and able to portray even so deadly an enemy as a suicide bomber.
“For My Father,” which won the audience award at last year’s Moscow International Film Festival, is also noteworthy for its impressive acting by Jaffa native Shredi Jabarin as Tarek, Hili Yalon as Keren and Shlomo Vishinsky as Mr. Katz.
“Seven Minutes in Heaven” is the more complex of the two movies. The film opens during Purim festivities, exactly one year after a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing.
Galia, a woman with a luminous face and a sabra’s way of saying exactly what she thinks, is one of the few survivors. However, third-degree burns make her back look “as if [she] slept on a hot barbeque griddle.”
Even more painful are her emotional scars, for she blames herself for the death of her fiancé Oren, who took the same bus only to apologize to Galia after a lovers’ spat.
She feels a desperate need to find out what exactly happened at the time and place of the bombing, especially after an anonymous package returns to her a cherished necklace she wore that day.
As she searches for the name of the medic who carried her out of the burning bus, she encounters a man who is a member of the Orthodox ZAKA team that is usually first on the scene after a terrorist attack, tending to the wounded and collecting body parts.
He doesn’t know the name of the medic either, but tells Galia that after she was rescued from the bus, she was clinically dead for seven minutes. After death, he adds, the soul rises to heaven, but if it is still incomplete, God gives it a chance to return to earth, so that the soul may change its future destiny at the moment it is reunited with the body.
Galia dismisses such mysticism as religious nonsense, but just about then she encounters Boaz, a young man who seems to show up whenever she needs some help.
It would be unfair to reveal the rest of the story, but don’t expect a Hollywood ending.
The movie has won a number of prizes at international film festivals and is the more impressive as the debut feature for director Omri Givon and the first lead role for Reymonde Amsalem as Galia.
“For My Father” and “Seven Minutes in Heaven” give added proof that the quality level of Israeli movies continues to rise year after year.
Both films will be shown repeatedly during the June 4-18 Israel Film Festival at the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills and Laemmle’s Fallbrook 7 in West Hills.
For dates, times and locations, visit www.israelfilmfestival.org or call (323) 966-4166.