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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Aliyah:' Next Month in Tel Aviv

This regrettably delayed review of the DVD release of "Aliyah," which is the October 2013 selection from the beyond awesome Film-of- the-Month Club from the even more awesome Film Movement, hopefully will be the last occasion on which the good news that is this film series will be untimely. A review of November 2013 selection "Broken" will appear soon.

Anyone who is interested, and you all should be, in learning more about the Film-of-the-Month's opportunity to have what is almost certain to be a top-notch foreign and/or art film delivered to your door each month is asked to please link to last month's review of September 2013 selection "Three Worlds."

Like "Worlds," "Aliyah" is an exceptional French drama with mercifully large subtitles. "Broken" brings us across the English channel to England.

Reading Film Movement's inside front-cover essay in the "Aliyah" release that states why Film Movement chose that film for its series after watching the DVD evokes thoughts of being in the audience when a band's lead singer shouts "Hello ------; are you ready to rock?" during a concert. The cited soundtrack, story, acting, and themes make this Cannes entry the no-brainer choice that Film Movement identifies it to be.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of "Aliyah's" excellent trailer that is very careful about spoilers. The only alert is that it includes a few "no-no" words.

"Aliyah" centers around Paris resident Alex, who has EVERY quality that one can hope for in a bud or a beau who makes his living selling drugs but would fit in just as well as an office drone or Starbucks barista. Frankly, one can imagine a casual drug user increasing his or her buys if only for an excuse to visit with this guy.

Alex's dealing is very low-level when "Aliyah" begins, and constant demands by his brother Isaac for  money and help getting out of a bad relationship or other problems of his own making are taking their toll on Alex. Possible salvation comes during a family gathering when Alex learns of his cousin's plans to move to Tel Aviv, rather than Santa Fe, to open a restaurant. Alex sees the opportunity to become a partner in the venture as a chance to escape his illegal activity, his brother, and other troubles.

These elements are part of what make "Aliyah" so fascinating. The opportunity to own an appropriate business and escape problems that include his brother's demands, rather than any sense of the Jewish pride that motivates most moves to Israel, is what prompts Alex to want the change. It is also somewhat unusual to see a drug dealer being the most appealing and stable primary character in a film.

Not only would most people want to share a beer with Alex, they would invite him to stay in their home despite knowing his profession. This is one younger offender with a very good defense.

On a related note, seeing that Jews living in Paris share the positive and not-so positive stereotypical characteristics of American Jews is interesting. One character points this out clearly in essentially reminding Alex that living in Tel Aviv is an intensified version of attending a family gathering.

One obstacle to the venture is the need for Alex to raise his share of the investment in the restaurant; this need logically leads to increasing his dealing activity and the very tense risks associated with that choice. The audience truly feels his perfectly depicted pain when he suffers a setback regarding that effort.

The other hurdle involves completing the bureaucratic titular aliyah, which the Israeli government requires before allowing Alex to establish residency there. The tasks include learning Hebrew and proving that he is Jewish enough to live in that country. A particularly amusing scene involves Alex stating that his parents' surnames are Raphaelson and Katz to help prove his Jewish heritage.

Contemplating the move does not create a crisis of faith but does get Alex thinking of his religion and the extent to which he can be happy living in Tel Aviv.

Aside from the themes depicted above, "Aliyah" is an especially nice treat in which the few character-driven American dramas from the last several months have had serious flaws. An U.S. version of "Aliyah" would be awesome and require minimal script changes.

In the spirit only of late-night infomercials, our friends at Film Movement provide the standard bonus of a well-matched 15-minute short with the "Aliyah" DVD. In this case, the film is an Israeli production called "On the Road to Tel Aviv" but does not have Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, or any musical numbers (or even "Family Guy's" Brian and Stewie).

This "Road" film centers on a Arab woman boarding a mini-bus the day after a bus bombing causing anxiety among the small group of Israelis on the vehicle. Each actor plays his or her role very well, and any audience member with any degree of sensitivity feel horrible each time that he or she expects the bus to explode. This film truly makes you think and keeps you guessing up to the final seconds. 

The final bureaucratic analysis of "Aliyah" is that it is a great chance to discover an exceptional movie that also provides a look at some seldom-depicted Parisian subcultures. Readers are advised to score a copy but do not need to conceal it under a cushion or in a heating vent.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Aliyah" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.