Romeo and Juliet had Verona to contend with; Eyal and Rana have the entire globe. The moonstruck-and-maybe-star-crossed lovers of Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv’s “Strangers” are Palestinian and Israeli, meet in Berlin, reunite in Paris and have their romance threatened by events in Lebanon. But while gem-hard in its political realism, “Strangers” is generous enough to suggest love may actually triumph — and as such will win a lot of hearts on its likely way to becoming a specialty hit.
Proving that outrageous implausibility can be forgiven in service of the right results, Eyal (Liron Levo) and Rana (Lubna Azabal, from “Paradise Now”) meet when they accidentally sit across from each other on a random Berlin subway and just happen to mix up their coincidentally identical rucksacks. That both are in town for the soccer finals, and that she’s Palestinian, and he’s Israeli, establishes an initial sense of this-can’t-possibly-be-happening — until they begin to get to know each other, via interplay that is extraordinarily believable and natural. (Oddly, the subtitles on the U.S. print shown at Sundance helped establish the couple’s unassuming personality: Though they converse in English, the fact that all the pauses and stammering were spelled out gave the entire film an added, awkward charm.)
But it’s the acting and the nearly faultless script that make “Strangers” a winner. The differences, after all, that must be bridged between Eyal and Rana are huge. That she’s from Ramallah makes rapproachement, much less romance, unlikely. But their attraction is such that they seize compromise at every opportunity — until Rana has to return to Paris suddenly, Eyal follows, and the existing complications of their lives and the world (the 2006 bombings in Lebanon occur in the background) make “Romeo and Juliet” look like a traffic dispute.
The two principal actors imbue their characters with an unlikely sense of fatalism and hope. The latter becomes contagious.
Helmers Tadmor and Nattiv give their tale an otherworldly sense through the intermittent intrusion of Rana’s narration and the silencing of ambient sound — the underwater affect suggests the characters observing their own lives objectively, which under the best conditions makes love seem unlikely.
What we have here, as Eyal confronts Rana’s friends about their anti-Israel attitudes and the added complication of Rana’s son, Rashid (Abdallah El Akal), is a parable, about two people changing their own world in defiance of the odds. “Strangers” plucks the heart strings, not shamelessly but assertively. It also shows that something good is going on in Israeli filmmaking.
Production values are first-rate.