Bit of a Let-Down from Eran Riklis

Among the prominent Israeli directors to have emerged in the past two decades, Eran Riklis is perhaps the one with the most uneven output. His best work -- The Syrian Bride and The Lemon Tree certainly come to mind -- is quite good indeed. He made a string of disappointing films after Cup Final, his first success, but lately he has been turning more predictably interesting films, laced with a warmth and humanity that reminds me often of Leo McCarey.

So his latest, A Borrowed Identity, which opened theatrically today, really is unfortunate. It's not terrible, but it feels rather studied. When it played the Israel Film Center Festival this spring I wrote this:

Eran Riklis opens the event with the New York premiere of  A Borrowed Identity, scripted by popular Israeli Arab novelist Sayed Kashua from the writer’s novel Dancing Arabs. . . . A Borrowed Identity, like its literary source, is a bildungsroman that traces the youth of a young Israeli Arab, Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) as he picks his way through the minefield of ethnic identity and Jewish-Arab conflict. Although there are moments of levity, Borrowed is essentially the latest installment the director’s ongoing search for the human side of the crisis. As in his best films. . . Riklis is trying to find the some reason for optimism but the material stubbornly refuses to provide one. Instead, it is his own dogged commitment to a cinematic humanism that is the most hopeful element in the film. 

Better than the Material:
Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) and Edna (Yael Abecassis)

Although A Borrowed Identity pivots on the literal event invoked in its title, the name of the film also serves as a reminder of the uniquely ambiguous status of the Israeli Arabs. Eyad encounters the expected racism in the larger society, but finds allies among his classmates at the elite arts school he attends in Jerusalem. He also becomes involved with someone even worse off than he, Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), whose muscular dystrophy has already put him in a wheelchair. The problem with “A Borrowed Identity” is that, despite some nice very acting, the film is sluggishly paced and too often feels like a rather obvious version of a ‘50s problem picture. And yet, against all odds, the final fifteen minutes is genuinely moving, as Riklis’s complex language of camera movement pays emotional dividends.