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Another Road Home

Danae Elon charts the search for Musa Obeidallah, the Palestinian man her parents hired to take care of her in Israel for the first 20 years of her life. Her quest leads her from her current home in New York to Paterson, N. J., and from there to the West Bank. Docu, already making a name for itself on fest tour, might attract limited urban play.

With:
With: Mahmoud Musa Obeidallah, Haled Obeidallah, Naser Obeidallah, Bassam Obeidallah, Amos Elon, Beth Elon.

Danae Elon’s “Another Road Home” charts the filmmaker’s search for Musa Obeidallah, the Palestinian man her parents hired to take care of her in Israel for the first 20 years of her life. Her quest leads her from her current home in New York to Paterson, N. J., and from there to the West Bank. Fascinating in its reticence, pic’s honest, well-intentioned exploration involving two families fearlessly emerges with a far different picture than was originally envisioned. Docu, already making a name for itself on fest tour, might attract limited urban play before migrating onto cable.

For Elon, pic reps a departure from her earlier oeuvre (“Never Again, Forever,” “Wild Mint”), less in its subject matter than in its personal slant. It soon becomes clear, as she quizzes her own parents (now living in Italy) about her upbringing, that what drives her pilgrimage is discovering why Musa, a Palestinian paid to raise her, felt so much more like a father than her own brilliant but distant progenitor (Danae is the daughter of famous left-wing Israeli historian and social critic Amos Elon).

Having lost touch with Musa, Danae travels to Paterson, N.J., in search of his children (Musa used the money he earned tending to her to send his own offspring to safety in the States). Danae at first has trouble locating the Obeidallahs, mainly because, though she remembers Musa’s kids from her youth in Israel, she doesn’t know how to spell their name. Finally, she tracks down the sons whom she visited as a child, now grown up with children of their own. They welcome her warmly, yet their memories are very different from hers.

In pic’s pivotal scene, filmed in medium long-shot, the oldest son speaks of his curiosity about the girl with whom his father spent more time than with his own children. He wondered what her experience, so patently different from his, was like. He asks her if she had similar queries about him. And with that simple question an abyss opens — somehow her absence of interest in his life becomes symbolic of an inequality so profound it seems unbridgeable.

At this point, Musa, hearing of Danae’s visit, leaves the West Bank for America, causing anxious pacing moments for Danae and the Obeidallahs, who know the enormous risks he runs in crossing the border. As Musa tearfully embraces his long-lost “daughter,” she wonders anew at his devotion. How, she asks him, could he iron her army uniform, symbol of his people’s oppression? But for Musa there is no conflict between love of country and love for Danae.

The Elons and the Obeidallahs meet and break bread in larger and smaller group configurations, but only Musa seems perfectly at ease with all camps. This state of grace signally escapes everyone else; though effort, respect and good will are palpable, so too is the tension.

Danae insists on accompanying Musa on his trip back to the West Bank, her Israeli passport obviating some of the danger (though their traveling together creates vast incomprehension and suspicion among her countrymen).

As in many recent films about the Jewish experience, an examination of the past reveals a hitherto unsuspected alternate point of view (e.g. “Hiding and Seeking” where children of Holocaust survivors visit the Polish family that hid their parents, only to discover they were never subsequently contacted or thanked for risking their lives).

Though Danae has intellectually analyzed and made films about Jewish fanaticism (and her father has written books about the Palestinian situation), it is in dealing with her beloved alternate father that she recognizes the unconscious legacy of racism and oppression — the subtle dehumanization implicit in the inability to spell a name or feel curiosity about a person. The fact that none of this is explicitly spelled out in the docu, but rather overlays each social situation, brings home the complexity of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the uniqueness of pic’s unflinching simplicity.

Another Road Home

Production: A Qi Film production. Produced by Danae Elon. Executive producers, David Drexler, Stanley K. Sheinbaum, Liselle Mei. Co-producer, Driss Benyaklef. Directed by Danae Elon. Written by Elon,Bryan Gunnar Cole.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Andrew T. Dunn; editor, Cole; music, Peter Scherer; associate producers, Hazel Gurland, Arik Bernstein. Reviewed on videocassette at Tribeca Film Festival (NY, NY), May 9, 2004. Running time: 77 MIN.

With: With: Mahmoud Musa Obeidallah, Haled Obeidallah, Naser Obeidallah, Bassam Obeidallah, Amos Elon, Beth Elon.

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