Prolific Israeli helmer Asher Tlalim’s latest, “Galoot” (Hebrew for “exile”), is an exceptional personal documentary that finds him intensely conflicted about the endless political troubles at home during a long sabbatical in London. Comparable to Stateside nonfictioner Ross McElwee’s pics in warmth, humor and existential questioning among a disparate community of real-life “cast” members, feature is worth the time for viewers with patience. Print at S.F. Jewish Fest was 23 minutes shorter than the runtime listed in the fest’s catalog, but still has longeurs. Tlalim has already created a 99-minute cut that likely reps pic’s best chance for wider exposure.
Relocating to Blighty with two young children when wife Ronit is accepted to a Ph.D. program there, Tlalim soon realizes that, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsening, “distance only heightens the anxiety.” Conversely, his spouse’s university campus and 7-year-old daughter Abigail’s new school are models of harmonious ethnic and religious diversity.
Through his wife, Tlalim meets Palestinian refugee Haled and flatmat Amjad, whose families lived for generations in Gaza and the West Bank before their villages were destroyed after the 1948 establishment of Israel. Both are now seeking asylum in Britain. Removed at least geographically from the issues that would keep them sharply segregated at home, the helmer and his new friends discover a considerable rapport. Still, the Arab men are absolutely clear-eyed in their sense of injustice and yearning for ancestral territory.
Seemingly roaming free but always involving and human-scaled, “Galoot” incorporates numerous central characters. They include Tim, the Nobel-winning scientist father of Abigail’s new favorite playmate; Gilad, a stellar Israeli jazz trumpeter who’s successfully relocated here out of political disgust with the government back home; and Tlalit’s eldest daughter Annaelle, who takes a break from her Hebrew U. studies to visit over the holidays.
There are also a couple sidetrips: Tlalit revisits Morocco for the first time since spending his childhood there. Not unlike many Palestinians, his well-to-do family was forced to flee the country when that nation proclaimed its independence from European rule in 1956. He, Ronit and 2-year-old son Jonathan later journey to Poland, onetime Euro center of Jewish culture where her ancestors long lived before WWII decimation.
The Tlalims keep good company, and the evident warmth of their friendship with various principal figures translates into highly articulate, sometimes profoundly moving exchanges. (Nonetheless, cut screened in S.F. did sometimes let interviewees expound excessively.) Finale at a New Year’s Eve celebration that brings them together — all dividing lines temporarily erased — transcends calculation to convey a heartfelt sense of hope.
As d.p., helmer has a terrific eye, evading talking-head claustrophobia at nearly every juncture. (A couple long sections are shot in B&W, the rest color.) Other tech aspects are polished. Occasionally, a thick accent renders English dialogue hard to understand.