With its feel good vibes and sympathetic look at rarely discussed immigrant communities in Israel, Avi Nesher’s “Turn Left at the End of the World” has humor and charm, although auds might sense a “same story, different ethnicity” feel. Set in the late ’60s, this easy to swallow plea for tolerance focuses on two teenage girls from different cultural backgrounds who break through their families’ resentments to forge a bond of friendship. Winner of the audience award at Taormina, “Turn Left” could head straight out of Jewish fest territory and cruise its way into offshore markets.
After a large wave of Moroccan Jews moved to Israel hoping for a better life, a smaller, less well-known community of Jews from India followed a little later.
The Talkar family from Bombay joined other Indians and immigrated to Israel, where the government placed them in a small town on the edge of the Negev Desert.
Already settled in the dusty outpost were Moroccan families who — 10 years earlier — the government shunted aside to the border development town whose sole employer is a bottling factory.
Talkar paterfamilias Roger (Parmeet Sethi) shows up for work at the factory in a suit, but quickly learns to shift his expectations. His wife Rachel (Kruttika Desai) can’t speak Hebrew or French and is less able to adjust and finds it difficult to communicate with the Moroccan housewives, who look down on the new arrivals as culturally backward. At the same time, the Indian families view their neighbors as little better than guttersnipes.
The sole inter-cultural friendship develops between two teens: bookish Indian Sara (Liraz Charchi) and coquettish Moroccan Nicole (Neta Garty). Nicole’s parents don’t favor this friendship — Mom Jeannette (Ruby Porat Shoval) is especially unhappy with the dark-skinned neighbors — but local widow Simone (Aure Atika) has her eye on Sara’s dad and so encourages Nicole to form an acquaintance with Sara.
When the hot-headed Moroccans strike at the factory, the Indians reluctantly join in (though how these families deal with the money shortage is never addressed). Nostalgically longing for a bit of their old life, the Indian families put together a cricket team and request equipment from the British consulate. Uniforms arrive, along with the promise of a show match against a proper English team. Thinking all the attention could help their town, the Moroccans join in, but first have to be taught how to play the game.
Meanwhile, Simone and Roger have an affair, Nicole sleeps with new teacher Asaf (Nati Ravitz), and Jeannette tries to hide her leukemia.If all this sounds like a cross between “East Is East” and “Lagaan,” complete with stock stereotypes, at least the amusing script and genuine sympathy for the characters keeps chuckles flowing. Pic successfully balances the coming-of-age tale with a more far-reaching satire on cultural pretensions, although occasional “American Pie”-style gags feel forced.
The real social critique here lies in how both communities see themselves as upholders of European traditions: the Indians present themselves as more English than the English, and the Moroccans model themselves on the upper echelons of French sophistication. Each drowns their insecurities in a self-lauded superiority to cover up their feelings about the raw deal given them by the Israeli government.
In his first Israeli film in nearly two decades, helmer Nesher (“Timebomb,” “Doppelganger,” “The Ritual”) gathered an international cast from French, Indian and Israeli pools. Sexy, unselfconscious Garty easily takes center stage, while Charchi carries a quiet dignity in an underwritten role. Other cast members acquit themselves with flair.
Production was threatened by the start of the Iraqi war; shooting was nearly axed, and cast and crew had to carry gas masks around between takes. War clouds don’t impinge on sunny lensing, and period details are nicely conceived.