TJFF 2015: Dancing Arabs
Opening the 2015 Toronto Jewish Film Festival is director Eran Riklis’ sublime film about the glory of young love, the challenge of religious identity, and the despair caused by an unforgiving geopolitical climate: Dancing Arabs.
Arab-born Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) has been afforded the chance to attend the prestigious Jerusalem Arts and Science Academy, but the opportunity is bittersweet. While he will receive the best education available, he will also be the rare Arab in a school full of Israelis. That “new kid” conflict normally prevalent in teenage settings is exponentially worse in this geographic environment, and at this point along the global timeline. Then along comes the beautiful Naomi (Daniel Kitsis), an Israeli student who catches the outcast’s eye. Eventually a strong love blossoms between the two, albeit one kept secret because of their religious differences. The challenges their relationship faces because of those differences, coupled with how Eyad is treated by everyday Israelis, drive him to reassess what’s most important to him: his past or his future.
Most impressive about Dancing Arabs is how director Riklis strikes a deft balance among the compelling, competing issues affecting Eyad, all while making terrific adjustments to tone throughout. Romance, humor, hatred, pathos, and even war might seem like competing forces, but Riklis, working from Sayed Kashua’s script, uses those forces to complement, rather than combat, each other. This creates an environment where the story can richly unfold, and where character actions are not jarring events, but rather measured decisions. Simple moments are this film’s secret weapons, and the accumulation of them translates into a glorious film.