“Bethlehem” Movie Review
Impressionable youths and the valor associated with patriotism. Spies whose incompetence is just as prevalent as their ambition to pursue peace. A covert war waged between two sides and a cycle of neverending shadow violence that crosses borders. Yuval Adler’s “Bethlehem” portrays these itinerant thoughts with a specter of skepticism, not the least of which is a bad thing to have in a film dealing with this sort of subject. However, Adler’s film is a superbly gritty and unruly piece of work; frequently pushing around the bounds of dishonesty between two figures locked
into a seemingly futile conflict pursed in the middle east.
Razi (Tsahi Halevi), an Israeli secret service agent attached to a small contingent similar office dwelling individuals, doesn’t use gadgets or high end technology to get his dirty work done. Just a wide array of well placed connections throughout the contested city of Bethlehem. The short and stout Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) eventually becomes Razi’s most reliable informant in the region.
Relationships between Razi and Sanfur begin to feel the oscillating centrifugal force of deceit and subterfuge when Razi sends Sanfur to gather information on his brother, Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), who has set off a bomb in the middle of Jerusalem. Tasked with the eventual retribution set to come down Ibrahim’s way is Razi. The tenuous care which Razi handles Sanfur comes into conflict as his efforts to gather intelligence from the boy drive him further into the hands of rival leaders in Bethlehem.
Adler manages to pit Sanfur inside an inherently difficult scenario of shuttling information between two sides and maintaining the approach of depicting a teenage boy on the precipice of despair. Although, Sanfur’s young braggadocio flairs, in an early scene evocative of Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah,” in which Sanfur wears a bulletproof vest and dares some of his friends to shoot him lest they have the initiative to do so. But treating Sanfur as an ornament in a wide net of intelligence that Razi has curated has dangerous consequences; driving Sanfur to the Badawi
Loyalties eventually turn and what ensues is the combustible atmosphere that Razi has created by caring too much for Sanfur. Difficult lessons are learned even at the point of hatred and, quite disparagingly, death. Where cries of martyrdom often subjugate the truths of the backhanded deals behind closed doors, Adler and co-writer Ali Wakad have made a film that questions the battle lines drawn between Palestinian and Israeli forces. Some fight for home. Some fight for family. Others fight for whomever pays the best price.
What emerges in Adler’s film is a fairly nuanced portrait of a regional conflict blighted by corruption, grief and roguish reprobates. A study of the menacing threats that patriotism can often imply. How innocent bystanders can unwittingly get caught up in conflicts they’ve been trying to avoid.
There are no good men in Adler’s “Bethlehem.” As the film digs to the bottom of moral and political degradation, we eventually find Sanfur locked between two sides. Razi promises yellow truths of a stable life, often the suggestion lingers that Razi feels a strong paternal compassion for Sanfur, in Israel and Badawi promises death in Bethlehem.
Compassion and death often stand at odds in Adler’s “Bethlehem” and it might not be eminently clear where Adler intends that the lines should be drawn, but fair judgement is always a flickering possibility, never too far away from the grasp of anyone.