The plight of a Bedouin family living in an “unrecognized” village in contemporary Israel receives understated but eloquent treatment in “Sharqiya” from debuting Israeli director Ami Livne. Filmed on location in the Negev desert with fine, naturalistic performances from non-professional actors, the tale pivots on a modest man who yearns to be fully accepted by the country he lives in. Poignant, low-key drama reps quality fare for offshore fests, broadcasters and human rights events.
A veteran of the Israeli military, Kamel (Adnan Abu Wadi) works as a security guard at the Be’er Sheba central bus station. As he commutes each day from the primitive plyboard-and-tin shack built on the isolated land owned by his family since the Ottoman Empire (an ownership claim that the Israeli government does not recognize because there are no extant documents), the contrasts between his home and the urban center in which he works make it feel as if he is traveling forward and backward in time. His dusty “village” consists of three shacks and a tent alongside a small herd of goats and a donkey.
Because the state of Israel does not permit electricity and water access to unrecognized Bedouin villages, Kamel, his older brother Khaled (Adnan Abu Muhareb) and Khaled’s young wife, Nadia (Maysa Abed Alhadi), must rely on a noisy gas generator and open fires. They purchase and collect their own water in a tanker hauled by a tractor.
When Israeli authorities deliver a demolition order, it increases the tensions already wracking this small extended family. Construction worker Khaled, who did not serve in the military, resents Kamel for his willingness to work for the Israeli establishment and for encouraging Nadia’s ambitions to study; he continually cold-shoulders his brother. Meanwhile, lonely Kamel feels as if he doesn’t receive the same opportunities at work as his colleagues because he is a Bedouin.
The brothers try to appeal the demolition order, but even the Bedouin Authority office advises them to accept compensation and leave their land. As the eviction day approaches, Kamel comes up with a plan.
With Guy Ofran’s screenplay keeping dialogue to a minimum, helmer Livne takes an unshowy, almost documentary approach, allowing sensitive, observant camerawork to articulate the story. A heartrending scene in which Kamel packs his meager possessions, prizing a photo of his army unit, epitomizes this approach.
The slightly soft-edged, grainy image quality furthers a docu feel, as does the realistic production design. Minimal, atonal music wryly underscores moments of greatest intensity.
Pic’s title translates as “East Wind,” referring to the literal and metaphorical winds buffeting the Bedouins.