While “Zion and His Brother” breaks no new ground, reprising familiar themes of family dysfunction and crime in a bleak Haifa housing project, writer-director Eran Merav’s debut feature immediately engages with its astute observation, strong perfs and avoidance of melodramatic cliche. Fine fest item stands a fighting chance of attracting offshore broadcast, DVD and niche theatrical sales.
“Always together, always fighting,” 14-year-old Zion (Reuven Badalov) and cocky older brother Meir (Ofer Hayun) live with their divorced mother (Ronit Elkabetz) in a dumpy apartment complex, getting occasional calls from their absent father at a pay phone nearby. Mom is angling for a better future by dating Eli (Tzahi Grad), who employs Meir at his auto shop. But Meir resents their relationship, channeling his anger into a drastic overreaction when Zion suspects an Ethiopian immigrant boy of stealing his sneakers. Family dynamics further disintegrate as Meir fears guilt-stricken Zion will expose his involvement in the resulting accidental tragedy. All thesps are solid, but Hayun in particular sports highly promising charisma. Package is compact, flavorful and well-handled in all tech departments; 35mm transfer is pending.