The Candide-like farm boy hero of Eyal Shiray’s extreme coming-of-age fable, “Comrade,” runs away to the city where he vicariously explores sex through his sister and politics through a feisty old Communist with a hidden agenda. Set in the graceful port city of Haifa, Uzi Weil’s screenplay laments the inevitable razing of landmark buildings and past ideals to make way for strip malls and rampant capitalism, but offers only the spectacle of suicidal resistance as a possible alternative. Pubescent p.o.v., though credible, is neither engagingly dramatic nor conventionally “cool,” and pic looks to be a hard sell.
Shiray relies entirely on his teenage protagonist to emotionally color pic’s oddly distanced happenings. Unfortunately, the unformed hero, portrayed by the equally unformed thesp Adam Hirsch, accepts whatever befalls him with somewhat colorless equanimity. Thus pic’s increasingly dramatic arc evokes no corresponding suspenseful buildup.
After discovering a stack of letters from his beloved older sister Dalia (Tinkerbell) that had been hidden by his father, Ilan (Hirsch) travels to Haifa to join her. While Dalia, in a spiffy tailored white uniform, stewards on a cruise ship whose stately arrivals and departures punctuate the film, Ilan hangs out with her bullet-headed next-door neighbor Avram (Assi Dayan), the last of the old-time commies.
Avram has appropriated a rundown mini-castle and turned it into a survivalist hideout. Part well-stocked arsenal of lost dreams where a scratchy recording of “Ay Carmela” recalls Communists’ glory days combating the Fascists in Spain, the rest of the ramshackle structure is filled with marijuana plants whose proceeds Avram shares with his protege.
But Ilan’s halcyon vacation soon comes to a violent end. When Ilan spies on Dalia in the shower, she angrily rebuffs him. At the same time, a demolition crew tries to tear down Avram’s crenellated squat, and Avram launches a one-man war, complete with machine guns, bazookas and land mines.
Throughout, helmer Shiray maintains a curious detachment, adhering to Ilan’s limited perception whereby fable, not tragedy, rules the day.
Tech credits are pro.