Review: ‘Zion and His Brother’

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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