×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Bethlehem’

This tightly wound clock-ticking thriller examines the Arab-Israeli conflict to impressive effect.

With:

Shadi Mar'I, Tsahi Halevy, Hitham Omari, Tarek Copti, Michal Shtemler, Hisham Suliman, George Iskandar, Yossi Eini, Efrat Shnap, Karem Shakur, Ibrahim Sakala. (Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

Debuting Israeli writer-helmer Yuval Adler and Palestinian co-scripter Ali Waked combine forces and their own intimate knowledge of the contempo Arab-Israeli conflict to impressive effect in “Bethlehem,” a tightly wound clock-ticking thriller. Centered around the fraught relationship between an Israeli intelligence officer and his conflicted Palestinian informant, the plot sifts through the moral complexities of the situation in such a way as to seem admirably evenhanded, although there are bound to be partisan viewers from both camps who will strive to find offense somewhere. Televisual in the most complimentary sense of the word, “Bethlehem” should see its star rise in numerous offshore territories.

Volatile 17-year-old Sanfur (non-pro thesp Shadi Mar’I, whose acting chops deepen as the pic progresses) is the younger brother of, and go-between for, Palestinian militia leader Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), a public enemy No. 3 or 4 who’s desperately being sought by the Israeli secret service. Unbeknownst to Ibrahim or anyone else in his family or militant unit, for two years Sanfur has been drip-feeding intel to Israeli military intelligence officer Razi (Tsahi Halevy, another non-pro who served in an elite unit of the Israeli army).

An early scene, in which Razi counsels Sanfur not to let a teenage peer get to him, illustrates that the bond between Sanfur and Razi is much more predicated on a surrogate father-son intimacy than on the money the spymaster slips the young double agent. That’s all too understandable, as later scenes between Sanfur and his real father (Tarek Copti) make clear that his biological family only really cares about Ibrahim, the family hero to whom Sanfur could never measure up.

From the co-orbiting bodies of Sanfur and Razi, the pic’s focus expands to encompass a whole solar system of interlocking characters, including Ibrahim’s ambitious, duplicitous lieutenant Badawi (Hitham Omari, a news cameraman in real life, and arguably the film’s most impressive non-pro discovery); manipulative Palestinian Authority politician Abu Mussa (Karem Shakur); and Razi’s co-workers Levi (Yossi Eini) and Maya (Efrat Shnap), among many others. Suicide bombers strike, interference from Hamas muddies the waters between the Palestinian factions, and Razi struggles to protect Sanfur’s life even as he exploits his trust while the pic’s crammed 99-minute running time sprints by, leaving a comet trail of sharply cut suspense and chase sequences.

Indeed, given the broad cast of characters, the depth of insider understanding that Adler and Waked’s script conveys, and the no-skin-pore-not-in-focus look of Yaron Scharf’s digital lensing, the thought often occurs that this might have worked even better as longer-form TV fiction, along the lines of Israeli series “Prisoners of War” (aka “Hatufim”) the show from which U.S. hit “Homeland” was adapted. As is, “Bethlehem” sometimes feels in too much of a rush to illustrate a moral spectrum through plot mechanics, sometimes at the cost of character dimensionality (the women, in particular, get short shrift). Consequently, the film packs less of an emotional wallop than other films that have covered similar ground, such as Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now.” Nevertheless, the film comprises an impressive directorial debut for Adler who demonstrates a confident grasp of pace, place and thesp handling.

Venice Film Review: 'Bethlehem'

Reviewed at Soho House, London, Aug. 23, 2013. (In Venice Film Festival — Venice Days; Telluride Film Festival; Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) Running time: 99 MIN.

Production:

(U.K.-Israel-Belgium-Germany) A WestEnd Films presentation of a Pie Films production in co-production with Entre Chien et Loup, Gringo Films, with the support of Argos, the Israel Film Fund, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, Yes Satellite Television, Cenre du Cinema et de L’Audiovisuel de la Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles et de Voo, Film und Medienstiftung NRW. (International sales: WestEnd Films, London.) Produced by Talia Kleinhandler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Diana Elbaum, Sebastian Delloye, Steve Hudson, Sonja Ewers. Executive producer, Ephraim Gildor.

Crew:

Directed by Yuval Adler. Screenplay, Adler, Ali Waked. Camera (color, HD), Yaron Scharf; editor, Ron Omer; music, Ishai Adar; production designer, Yoav Sinai; costume designer, Li Alembik; sound (Dolby Digital), Dirk Bombay, Philippe Bauduhin; sound designer, Francois Dumont; line producer, Zehava Shekel; associate producer, Hamoudie Boqaie; assistant directors, Avi Satat, Raanan Tesler; casting, Liron Zohar, Naama Zaltzman.

With:

Shadi Mar'I, Tsahi Halevy, Hitham Omari, Tarek Copti, Michal Shtemler, Hisham Suliman, George Iskandar, Yossi Eini, Efrat Shnap, Karem Shakur, Ibrahim Sakala. (Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' to Soar Above Box Office Competition Over Memorial Day Weekend

    When Disney first released “Aladdin” in 1992, Bill Clinton was just settling in to the Oval Office, “Game of Thrones” wasn’t much more than a book idea percolating in the mind of author George R.R. Martin, and Johnny Carson was wrapping up his stint as “Tonight Show” host. In some ways, 2019 feels like a [...]

  • Daniel Dae Kim Hellboy

    Cannes: Daniel Dae Kim Joins Joe Penna’s Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Stowaway’

    Daniel Dae Kim, best known recently for ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” will join Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette in Joe Penna’s sci-fi thriller “Stowaway.” The movie marks the second feature from Penna and Ryan Morrison, the duo behind the Cannes Official Selection film “Arctic,” which released earlier this year. XYZ Films and CAA Media Finance [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Karim Ainouz on Cannes Un Certain Regard's ‘The Invisible Life’

    CANNES  —  Karim Aïnouz’s “The Invisible Life” begins with two  sisters, not much over 20, Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Julia Stockler) sitting by the shore of one of the multiple bays around Rio de Janeiro, a lush tropical forest behind. They have all their life in front of them. Guida suddenly dashes off clambering [...]

  • Cannes: Neon, Hulu Acquire 'Portrait of

    Cannes: Neon, Hulu Acquire Celine Sciamma’s 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    Neon and Hulu have acquired North American rights to Céline Sciamma’s love story “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which premiered in competition at Cannes. Neon is planning a theatrical release for the film this year, which will include an awards campaign in all categories. The film is set in Brittany, France in 1770. Marianne [...]

  • Brightburn review

    Film Review: 'Brightburn'

    “Superman” meets “The Omen” in “Brightburn,” a watchable but super-silly mix of superheroics and evil-child horror that mashes together singularly uninspired ideas from both. Offering R-rated fantasy competition to “Aladdin” this Memorial Day weekend, it should do OK with undiscriminating audiences seeking familiar, forgettable genre thrills. But the franchise prayers that an open-ended fadeout dangles [...]

  • Aladdin

    Film Review: Will Smith in 'Aladdin'

    Of all the characters in Walt Disney Studios’ canon, is there any more animated than the Genie from “Aladdin”? In 1992, old-school cartooning seemed the only way to keep up with comedian Robin Williams’ rapid-fire sense of humor and free-associative gift for improvisation. Much of the appeal of the original “Aladdin” came thanks to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content