Israeli helmer Dror Sahavi’s well-meaning but simplistic terrorist melodrama, gingerly counterbalancing religious fanatics on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, utilizes a lyrical “Romeo and Juliet”-type encounter between a reluctant suicide bomber and a Jewish escapee from Orthodox closed-mindedness to plead mutual tolerance. Strong thesping mitigates the pic’s obvious setups and woefully underpopulated street scenes but cannot supply an organic sense of neighborhood or kinetic flow of action. A “Paradise Now” lite, this likable but insubstantial effort opens at Gotham’s Quad within weeks of the brilliantly complex Israeli thriller “Ajami,” which cinematically and emotionally blows “Father” out of the water.
A reluctant, glowering Tarek (Shredy Jabarin) is driven into Tel Aviv by a two members of the Tanzim, there to atone for his father’s sins by blowing up Jews: Tarek, a soccer player for the Nazareth team, was detoured by army roadblocks until his father collaborated with Israeli authorities to get his son a pass, causing dad to be beaten by the Tanzim and ostracized by the townspeople.
But Tarek’s terrorist mission is temporarily foiled by a malfunctioning trigger. Stranded, he is forced to spend some time with lovably quirky Israelis, particularly crotchety, meshuggah Katz (vet character actor Shlomo Vishinski) and his welcoming wife Zipora (Rosina Kambus), the two still suffering from the senseless death of their son in military boot camp. The couple brings out Tarek’s protective side, but it is their neighbor Keren (Hili Yalon) who causes the angry young Arab to blossom into a playful, gently sweet companion. Soon this freshly evolved “nice guy,” with hidden high explosives irremovably strapped to his chest, is mooning about the city with his girlfriend-for-a-day.
Meanwhile Keren battles problems of her own — estrangement from her family and harassment by a gang of Hassidim. Angered by her red-streaked hair and punk clothes, the faithful are bent on bringing her back to the fold, preferably by force.
Helmer Sahavi so contorts his characters in his obsessive search for symmetry, that the film lacks spontaneity. For every brutal Tanzim member, there is a good partner; for every hateful Hassidim, one finds a sensitive sidekick; for every self-important petty official, one discovers a generous soul. Such relentless even-handedness becomes wearisome in the end, reducing the real charm of many of the players to mere symbolic representations of carefully parsed-out diversity.
Tech credits are accomplished; Carl-Friedrich Koschnick’s sand-hued lensing lends a certain fairy-tale luminosity to the picturesque, weathered but squeaky-clean streets.