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Trouble Brewing: French, Israeli and Indian cultures collide in 'Turn Left at the End of the World.'

Oh, Israelites

San Jose's Israeli Film Festival includes the coming-of-age drama 'Turn Left at the End of the World'

By Richard von Busack

ABOUT 20 years ago, Israeli film was most actively represented by the team of Golan and Globus. Even before they came to Beverly Hills and founded Cannon Films, these two original Gs were responsible for a string of 99-cent-store-budgeted action movies noteworthy for pitting glowering terrorists in checkered scarves against macho stars on their way up (Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris) or on their way down (Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson).

Today, the Israeli movies we get are exports from a polyglot, polycultural country made up of immigrants. They are speaking openly about the disillusioning side of decades of terrorism, unemployment and economic slumps. Much critical acclaim has been lavished during the past few years on movies like Walk on Water, Late Marriage, Broken Wings and James' Journey to Jerusalem. Even in a film-fest-glutted Bay Area one has to welcome the addition of the Israeli Film Festival, May 19-22 at Camera 12 in San Jose, put together by the folks at the San Jose Jewish Film Festival.

Although it is episodic—a sequence of one thing after another—Turn Left at the End of the World exactly represents the best spirit of Israeli film. The dialogue is a mix of French, English and Hebrew. The setting is a desert outpost where new Israeli immigrants are being stashed, as a bulwark against the Arabs. An Indian family arrives in 1968, right after the '67 war, and is surprised to find out that the only work is in a glass-bottle factory. Even that work is soon stopped, immobilized in a wildcat strike.

As Indians, the family members are pariahs in a mostly French-speaking village of Frenchified Moroccan Jews. But the father's enthusiasm for cricket makes him popular and brings the remote town some international respect. Daughter Sarah records her thoughts in her journal on this middle-of-nowhere desert town. And she makes one great friend: Nicole. But trouble brews. Nicole's mentor, Simone (Aure Atika)—the kimono-wearing, cigarette-smoking kind of widow—misinterprets the French civilizing mission as "acting like Brigitte Bardot."

Turn Left at the End of the World has its Northern California premiere May 19 at 7:30pm and May 22 at 7:30pm. Also showing during the minifestival are Mashehu Matok (a.k.a. Something Sweet), Dan Turgeon's romance about a girl who falls for her sister's fiance. The film's North American premiere is May 22 at 2pm. Returning from its engagement at Cinequest 15 is Campfire, showing May 22 at 4:30pm. By coincidence, this controversial Israeli hit by Joseph Cedar has a very similar subject matter to Turn Left at the End of the World: in 1981, a Jerusalem girl and her family decide to immigrate to the desert frontier and face primitive and violent conditions. The film has been read—according to the Internet Movie Database—as a metaphor for the current desettling of the border areas in Israel today. Israel is a small country—the size of New Jersey, as the Zionist advertisements remind us. Yet in self-criticism and skepticism, Israel has few peers on the international movie scene.

The San Jose Israeli Film Festival takes place May 19-22 at Camera 12 in San Jose. See www.sjjff.org for details.

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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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