Can an Israeli documaker in search of the hinted-at half siblings conceived by his father in post-WWII Netherlands solve the mystery of these “Souvenirs” without jeopardizing a new-found, hard-earned closeness with dad? Helmer Shahar Cohen can and does, in a mischievous, involving memoir that will ride the momentum of prominent San Francisco and SilverDocs trophies to additional fest action, tube sales, ancillary life and, down the road, strong dramatic remake possibilities.
Apparently between professional engagements, the dreadlocked documaker ponders a film based on 82-year-old Yemeni father Sleiman’s wartime service with the British-backed Jewish Brigade in Italy. Half-heartedly dragged along to the unit’s reunion in Israel, Shahar is stunned when dad cheerfully admits to most probably having left behind “souvenirs” — children — with two different Dutch women as the men regrouped in Holland following the hostilities. Helpfully, he even remembers their names, and the towns of probable conception.
Under the pretext of retracing Sleiman’s steps as a Brigade driver, Shahar takes his father to Italy to consult with historians, and director and dad set out on a car trip to Holland that bonds them closer than they’ve ever been.
Unbeknown to his father, Shahar has retained a Dutch private investigator in a frantic search for dad’s postwar dalliances. Surprise denouement is an unabashed delight, underscored by Sleiman’s initial reaction to it: “You don’t say,” he says.
Blessed with a relentlessly cheerful subject whose reluctance to reveal private information is consistently overridden by his infectious enthusiasm for the trip and a strong sentimental streak lurking just below the surface, Cohen fils makes the most of the time spent with the engaging Cohen pere. Pic’s emotional spine is their teasing, irreverent banter while barreling down the road, and these sequences suggest what form a dramatic reimagining of the story might take, in the right hands.
Tomer Shani’s nimble lensing is matched by a hummable spin on military marches by composer Shai Bachar.