Alyah: next year in Israel
by Vitor Pinto
19/05/2012 - Alyah [trailer] in Hebrew means the immigration of Jews to the land of Israel. While at the end of the 19th century it was one of Zionism's main ideologies (and decades later culminated in the creation of the state of Israel), there is nothing religious or ideological about the word in French filmmaker Elie Wajeman's first feature, yesterday screened at the Director's Fortnight in Cannes. Instead it is merely a opportunity to escape. Whether through opportunism or pure survival instinct, the Holy Land becomes instead a land of reinvention.
Alex is a 27-year-old Jewish Parisian who deals drugs to pay off the debts incurred by his once-protective brother Isaac, who has become addicted to gambling. When their cousin, who a few years ago obtained his Alyah, comes to Paris on a visit and tells Alex about his plan to open a restaurant in Tel Aviv, the young drug dealer, for whom Judaism means no more that Sabbaths with the family, decides that the Law of Return to the State of Israel is the perfect opportunity to get away from his addicted brother and ex-girlfriend, who still seems to occupy his thoughts.
The film is mostly moving because of the way that Wajeman and his screenwriter Gaelle Mace have constructed a gallery of imperfect characters each fighting their own demons, played by a group of young promising French actors. They all interact carefully, trying (in vain) to make sure that their past pains don't affect their present lives. For Alex the present is suffocating, and Pio Marmai's discreet but imposing performance manages to convey all the worry of a man adrift, who is capable of accepting a radical change in life to be able to better breathe. Opposite him, film director Cédric Kahn (here making his debut as an actor) plays Alex's immature and irresponsible brother. His performance is full of humanity and never falls into the cliche of the bad guy that everybody hates. It's refreshing to see a film in which the characters are not judged and the director is not too scared to save them, to give them a second chance, without however insulting the audience's intelligence with a happy, unlikely ending.
Once he has decided to leave, Alex tries to save money, and embarks on an unexpectedly fast administrative process to obtain his Alyah during which he meets a girl who offers him the opportunity to rebuilt his love life. But after a delicious sequence in which Jeanne (played by French 2011 Shooting Star Adèle Haenel) declares her love for Alex, the dealer decides to leave anyway, which is when Wajeman dares to briefly film the Holy Land as a multicultural land where Black and Asian Jews also live, but where the same problems exist as in the western world. The film's last scene, shot in Tel Aviv, manages to symbolically combine tough daily life with luminous hope for the future.
With this bittersweet first feature, French state film school (FEMIS) graduate Elie Wajeman manages to impose himself as a French film director to watch over the next few years.
(Translated from Spanish)