Subtlety was never the strong-suit of helmer-activist Udi Aloni, although his agitprop works have a justifiable righteous anger that gets them touring fests. “Junction 48” is a classic example, starring Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar as a version of himself, naively dreaming of becoming a crossover hip-hop star while facing Israeli bigotry. Once again, Aloni (“Forgiveness”) exposes racism within Zionist ideology, yet again he has trouble integrating his various strands, plus the script, co-written by Nafar and Oren Moverman, veers all over. “Junction” bagged the Panorama audience prize in Berlin, testifying to the pic’s success at energizing viewers looking for an easy reinforcement of their political beliefs.
Kareem (Nafar) lives close to Tel Aviv in Lod, in a drug-infested neighborhood lacking status in Israeli society. His parents are commie musicians in a traditional vein, whereas Kareem isn’t interested in their square music. When he chastely accompanies some friends out whoring rather than being on call to pick up his tired father following a concert, disaster strikes: Dad crashes (in a particularly ham-fisted scene) and dies, leaving mom (Salwa Nakkara) in a wheelchair. The accident causes her to develop mystical healing powers (huh?), ditching communism for Islam-inflected hocus-pocus.
Sadness won’t stop career pursuits, and Kareem gets a gig in a Tel Aviv club, right after right-wing Israeli thugs RPG (Michael Moshonov) and 67 Carat (Elan Babylon) perform a rap version of nationalist anthem “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The Nation of Israel Lives”). The club kids go wild, but also go nuts for Kareem singing about Palestinian hardship (in other words, they’re idiots). His girlfriend Manar (Samar Qupty), also a singer, is less pleased, furious Kareem is entertaining these racists.
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Running parallel to this plot strand is the story of band manager Talal (Saeed Dassuki), whose goat-herd father (Tarik Copti) is threatened with homelessness because the state wants to tear down his house and erect a Museum of Reconciliation (the irony is meant to be thicker than extra-chunky peanut butter). Bringing in this part of the narrative allows Aloni to address not just the present state of disenfranchisement, but also the historic roots of Israel’s land grab, since Talal’s father was kicked out in 1948 but returned to tend to his flock.
It also increases the sense of indignation, which ultimately is what Aloni cares about most: message above craft. Issues are overly simplified and scenes are often poorly constructed (not helped by uneven editing), though Nafar is a charismatic performer. Ditto Qupty, and the energetic hip-hop scenes are welcome distractions. Visuals are spirited.