As mentioned, repeatedy, numerously, and probably ad nauseum, Israeli films tend to be a little bit different because while they can be very western, there’s this element of constant existential threat in them which tends to give them a different flavor. In fact, last year’s films were sort of remarkable in that a few didn’t have that (like Ibiza and Galis, which are straight up teen sex comedy and teen escapist fantasy, respectively). But while it’s interesting to look at the ways this “distorts” traditional formulae, when it’s used as the hook, it can be heavy handed to the point of boring.
Beyond Hills and Mountains, e.g., had a lot of verve added by the Palestinian threat. Being a “rebellious teen” in Israel can take on terrifying dimensions you don’t get as a snowflake in a safe space. In A.K.A. Nadia, however, the situation is used as the hook, and doesn’t add as much as you might think to the proceedings.
The story is that of a 17 year old Palestinian girl who runs off to London with her fiancee, in defiance of her parents, and knowing that she can never return. If you go to London, apparently, you’re only going for terrorism training, and Israel apparently isn’t super-keen on re-importing trained terrorists. As you might imagine, things go south and the young girl finds herself alone in a city where she doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know anyone, and from which she cannot get back home.
So, she works. And through others in her situation, she finds a guy (John Hurt, no less!) who can get her papers back to Israel, approximately. The catch is that the only papers he can get her are Jewish. So if she wants to go back at all, it has to be as Nadia who was killed in a car accident with her parents a few months earlier. (And I guess has no other interested family. I don’t know, that could happen.)
It’s not a bad hook, but the bulk of the movie takes place 20 years later, when she’s married with two kids, and living as a choreographer in a life which, if we’re being honest, is so much better than any she could’ve had as a Palestinian woman, it’s one of those blazing examples of “This is not a story with two sides.” This is barely touched on, though, which became an issue, as I’ll discuss further on.
Nadia meets with her real mother maybe once a week, and otherwise juggles her busy life as mom, wife and choreographer when, one day, an envoy from Palestine arrives on some sort of culture mission and who should be there but boyfriend-from-twenty-years-ago. He vanished, she didn’t know what happened to him, and she ignores her mother’s warning to leave the guy alone since he brought her and her family nothing but misery.
Her actions end up creating suspicion in her marriage, increasing agitation at her work, and ultimately chaos to her entire life.
This is one of those movies, though, where the circumstances and events seem plausible (even down to the destructive pursuit of the terrorist ex) to the movie’s detriment. It’s as though the author wants to shy away from drama so hard that much is left out. And much, also, is left in, which is to say there are long scenes of acting, where nothing is said or done, just emoted. Including a gratuitous shower scene which, normally, I’m for but which does a poor job of preparing us for what I think is meant to be the character steeling herself against (I think) the possible fall-out of incorporating part of her history in to the Big Show.
It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just low key. And it feels to me like it’s resting hard on the cultural situation, the audience’s awareness of it, and their sensitivity to same. Which, hey, these guys’d starve if they made their movies catering to the American audience.
I did think, though, that it also felt a little bit of a cheat in the sense that Nadia had to lie, repeatedly, over and over again, to her husband, her children, etc. And we see very little of that. We just get the “20 years later…” which is going to tend to make the protagonist one-sidedly sympathetic and the sense of betrayal seem unreasonably extreme. Which is how I felt, actually. Like, sure, she lied about everything (except maybe how she felt about her family) but the things she was honest about were the most important.
I think maybe the film could’ve better served the audience by giving us a taste of that pre-climactic life, which it only does in brief flashbacks which are sometimes confusing because the actress can’t really pass for 17. (The Boy missed the final flashback as a flashback, for example.)
Broody. Well acted, sure. And the ending wasn’t as horrible as it might’ve been, which is actually no faint praise, since it could’ve gone a lot of really awful ways. But tough to recommend.