Would-be suicide bomber connects with supposed enemies in Israeli film

Hili Yalon as Keren and Shredi Jabarin as Tarek in one of the Jewish Film Festival’s best films this year, Israel’s ‘For My Father.’

by Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

One of the best films in this year’s Jewish Film Festival is an Israeli drama about a conflicted young Palestinian man – a would-be suicide bomber. He meets an Israeli young woman, who is estranged from her Orthodox family, when he is forced to spend a weekend hiding in Tel Aviv among the people he was supposed to kill.

We know from that the film’s start that Tarek (Shredi Jabarin), a young Palestinian from Nablus, is being sent to Tel Aviv to detonate a bomb strapped to his body. Why he is doing it seems less clear. Tarek is intensely serious, but also nervous and melancholy. He doesn’t show political rage or religious fervor. He instructs his handlers to send the money he will receive for his deed to his father, who has fallen into disgrace in his community. Tarek stops to call his mother, who clearly does not know what is happening, and seems more conflicted after he speaks to her. Yet he keeps reassuring his handlers that he will go through with his mission.

When Tarek positions himself at the crowded market and pushes the button to set off the bomb, nothing happens. Calling his handlers, he asks them to not set off the bomb remotely but give him time to get the switch repaired and carry out his suicide mission. On a small street, Tarek finds a small electronics shop run by Katz (Shlomo Vishinsky), a quirky old Hungarian. Because he speaks Hebrew, Tarek is able to concoct a story about being with a construction crew working at a nearby building site.

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The switch has to be ordered, so Tarek is forced to wait two days for the part. To allay suspicion, he offers to help repair a leak in the roof and tries to blend in. Small gestures reveal Tarek as a basically decent person, making his mission all the more puzzling. He finds himself befriended by Katz and his depressed wife, still mourning the lost of their soldier son. Across the street is a small food shop run by Keren (Hili Yalon), a beautiful young woman estranged from her Orthodox religious family. Keren’s clothing style is modern, even a bit Goth, which draws threats from some religious young men.

As we slowly learn more about all of these people, Tarek unexpectedly finds himself at home in this tiny community of misfits, people haunted by their own demons, as Tarek himself is. Once a promising soccer star, Tarek is driven by a wish to help his family and redeem the tarnished reputation of his now-disabled father. His spirits are lifted by effervescent Keren, who recognizes Tarek’s sensitive nature under his brooding surface. But with the bomb still strapped to his body, Tarek will ultimately have to make a choice.

Director Dror Zahavi and writers Ido Dror and Jonatan Dror crafted a strong story that is about simple human connections. The well-structured plot reveals details about each character skillfully. The film starts tense and dark but as it develops, adds touches of sweetness, warmth and even absurd humor before building to its moving conclusion.

The acting is superb in this dramatic gem, giving the film much of its emotional power. We come to care about each of these characters and are moved by the difficulty that the political conflict puts them in. Jabarin plays Tarek with a deep intensity, which is all the more striking when broken by a smile. Yalon’s Keren is flinty at first, but that exterior gives way to a warmth and playfulness as her friendship with Tarek builds. Jabarin is excellent in portraying Tarek’s internal struggle, wanting to give in to happiness with Keren but faced with the reality of the bomb still strapped to his body and his sense of obligation to his father. All the supporting characters are well rounded and memorable, with Shlomo Vishinsky strong as the dark-humored, knowing Katz.

‘For My Father’

When: 5:30 p.m. June 17

More info: In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. The film will be introduced by Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief-Emeritus at the St. Louis Jewish Light.