Equal parts pioneer saga, creation story and romantic soap opera, “Gei Oni (Valley of Strength)” is set in late 19th-century Palestine, amid a Jewish community that has fled the pogroms of czarist Russia for an environment only marginally less hostile, both physically and politically. Although based on a rich chapter of proto-Israeli history, writer-director Dan Wolman’s film was retailored from a TV miniseries and shows all its seams, often proving earnest to the point of petrification. Still, the novelty of the setting may draw specialty auds in limited Stateside release.
Although Wolman’s script doesn’t do her any favors, Tamar Alkan delivers the pic’s standout performance as Fanya, an educated, husband-less Russian who arrives in Ottoman-ruled Palestine with a baby, an emotionally damaged brother (Eric Yizhakov) and feckless uncle (Ya’ackov Bodo). Almost immediately, she receives a proposal from Yechiel (Zion Ashkenazi), a struggling, widowed farmer with two children. Their marriage of convenience is also one of painful awkwardness, but predictably, their relationship, like the infant country around them, will overcome its various obstacles. These include Fanya’s big secret, which adds a welcome dose of emotional potency to the inert proceedings.