Breaks no new ground, but immediately engages with its astute observation.

While “Zion and His Brother” breaks no new ground, reprising familiar themes of family dysfunction and crime in a bleak Haifa housing project, writer-director Eran Merav’s debut feature immediately engages with its astute observation, strong perfs and avoidance of melodramatic cliche. Fine fest item stands a fighting chance of attracting offshore broadcast, DVD and niche theatrical sales.

“Always together, always fighting,” 14-year-old Zion (Reuven Badalov) and cocky older brother Meir (Ofer Hayun) live with their divorced mother (Ronit Elkabetz) in a dumpy apartment complex, getting occasional calls from their absent father at a pay phone nearby. Mom is angling for a better future by dating Eli (Tzahi Grad), who employs Meir at his auto shop. But Meir resents their relationship, channeling his anger into a drastic overreaction when Zion suspects an Ethiopian immigrant boy of stealing his sneakers. Family dynamics further disintegrate as Meir fears guilt-stricken Zion will expose his involvement in the resulting accidental tragedy. All thesps are solid, but Hayun in particular sports highly promising charisma. Package is compact, flavorful and well-handled in all tech departments; 35mm transfer is pending.

Zion and His Brother

Israel-France

Production

A Norma Prods. (Israel)/MK2 (France) presentation. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Produced by Assaf Amir, Yoav Roeh. Co-producers, Marin Karmitz, Nathanael Karmitz, Charles Gillibert. Directed, written by Eran Merav.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-HD), Itzik Portal; editor, Sari Ezouz; music, Blake Williams, Mary Lago Williams; production designer, Lee Levy. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 17, 2009. Original title: Zion ve'achiv. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Reuven Badalov, Ronit Elkabetz, Ofer Hayun, Liya Leyn, Tzahi Grad.

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