Tribute is paid in “Citizen Nawi” to the indomitable spirit — or is it just sheer stubbornness? — of Ezra Nawi, a gay Israeli plumber-turned-activist who helps Palestinians resist harassment from both the military and Jewish settlers. Low-budget, somewhat messily assembled docu by experienced helmer Nissim Mossek is too in love with its subject to ask tough questions, but it exposes both Israeli and Arab bigotry and has its heart in the right liberal place. Outside Israel, the natural homeland for “Citizen” will be fests, especially those angled toward gay, Jewish and human-rights themes.
Made over five years, docu tracks the personal and public travails of Nawi, a fiftysomething Sephardic Jew whose parents originally came from Iraq. He helps Palestinian villagers in South Hebron build a clinic and a school, and stands by their side as the Israeli Defense Forces bulldoze their homes. Ultra-Orthodox settlers living nearby also attack the Palestinians’ property, but they prefer to verbally abuse Ezra with homophobic insults.
Meanwhile, at home, Nawi’s long-term partner, handsome, much younger Palestinian Fuad Mussa, is constantly getting arrested and spending time in jail for being in Jerusalem without a permit. At one point, Mussa weds a woman, but the marriage doesn’t last.
Later still, Nawi takes up with another Palestinian boy, Nimmer, although he confesses he doesn’t love him as much as he loves Mussa. Nawi’s mom, a quintessential Jewish mother, is mostly supportive but still pines for grandchildren.
Helmer-editor Mossek doesn’t always fill in the blanks, leaving auds somewhat perplexed as to why, for instance, Nawi suddenly turns against Mussa and refuses to give him money. While the homophobia of Orthodox Jews is well aired, pic doesn’t show how the same bigotry is rife among the Palestinian community Nawi wants so desperately to help.
At least in interviews, Mussa explains that’s exactly why he wants out of Ramallah, and that at least in Jerusalem, you get a fair trial first before you’re condemned.
Tech package is low-grade but will look passable on TV.