Mystery, romance and a golden Labrador race through the more seamy byways of Jerusalem in Israeli helmer Oded Davidoff’s “Someone to Run With,” a breezy cross between “Lassie” and “Oliver Twist.” Based on David Grossman’s bestseller, pic moves briskly in parallel arcs as a lad follows a lost dog bounding through the mean streets in search of its mistress. Well-structured dual-time sense and highly appealing perfs by tyro teen leads (Bar Belfer was nominated for an actress Ophir) make for a noirish, enjoyable adventure. Curiously wholesome walk on the dark side could find an arthouse squat.
Taking a summer job at the pound, Assaf (Yonatan Bar-Or), an amiable 17-year-old whose goofy grin wards off all manner of discouragement, sets out to track down the unknown owner of Dinka the dog. Pulled along willy-nilly by the anxious canine, Assaf is regaled by neighborhood folk with tales of Dinka’s owner, Tamar (Belfer), a street-singing waif with a guitar and a mysterious agenda. Already a pushover for the tail-wagging Labrador retriever, Assaf increasingly feels drawn to the damsel in distress whose steps he is retracing.
Flashbacks to Tamar alternate with Assaf’s quest as he passes through the same Jerusalem exteriors. Tamar, like Joan of Arc, has shaved her head for a rescue mission of her own, and allows herself to be swept up by a Fagan-like character, Pesach (Tzahi Grad), who shelters street musicians as a front for a more nefarious trade.
Holding the troubadours virtual prisoners, Pesach has them perform in selected public squares while his thugs deal drugs on the fringes of the gathered crowds. Tamar’s roommate Shelley (Rinat Matatov) fiercely embodies the hopelessness of these lost kids.
Pic has been promoted as an expose, a nightmarish descent into the soft underbelly of Jerusalem. Yet no matter what horrors Assaf and Tamar encounter in their tandem storylines — Assaf chased, beaten and threatened at every turn, Tamar bullied and imprisoned, watching friends and loved ones ravaged by drugs — both juves remain oddly untouched and untouchable. They come off as almost childishly heroic, wearing their goodness (and their class status) as impenetrable shields, envied and admired by those weaker beings enslaved by drugs and/or cowardice.
Thesps Bar-Or and Belfer manage to inject their characters with enough wistfulness, sweetness and compassion to prevent their strength from reading as self-righteousness.
Tech credits are fine. Yaron Scharf’s color-leached HD lensing grounds pic in the topography of Jerusalem’s “other” side.