“An Israeli Love Story” Conjures Idealism, Sacrifice of Pre-Israel Palestineby Michael Fox January 29, 2018
Putting aside the contradiction that “An Israeli Love Story” unfolds in the months prior to the founding of the Jewish state, its title is the essence of truth in advertising.
The film treats crucial developments in 1947 and 1948, such as the rising tensions between Arabs and Jews and the smuggling of Jewish refugees from Holocaust-riven Europe into Palestine, largely as background. The focus, for worse and for better, is the relationship between aspiring actress Margalit Dromi (played by Adi Bielski) and kibbutznik and Palmach member Eli Ben Zvi (Avrahim Avuv Alush, recently seen in “The Women’s Balcony”).
Set in the same era and place as Otto Preminger’s 1960 landmark “Exodus” but decidedly more modest in scale, “An Israeli Love Story” ultimately and movingly conveys both the idealism and the sacrifice through which the tiny nation was created and built.
After an awkward opening scene that reveals the tragic fate of one of the lovers, veteran director Dan Wolman flashes back—how far back is never clear, but it only feels like a few months—to trace Margalit and Eli’s romance from a random meeting on a bus through her self-absorbed pursuit to their eventual engagement and the misguided violence that interrupts their plans.
The movie was inspired by actress and theater director Pnina Gary’s solo autobiographical play, which she wrote in 2002, but didn’t produce until 2008. Gary’s choice to play her youthful self was Bielski, who went on to perform the piece hundreds of times in the ensuing years and was the natural choice to play Margalit on screen.
That suggests we can trust the accuracy of Bielski’s portrayal of Margalit as a love-struck teenager who, to give one example, is less interested in assisting the freezing, disoriented European refugees who have landed under cover of darkness than in making an impression on Eli.
However, Margalit comes off as callow, and it takes a while for the film to find a satisfying balance between the love affair, Margalit’s ambition to study acting in Tel Aviv and the weightier matters demanding Eli’s attention—the plans for his nascent kibbutz Beit Keshet and the armed defense of Jews.
Although hampered by the production values of a TV movie, “An Israeli Love Story” ultimately achieves a poignant power. En route, it offers a rare glimpse of everyday life in the postwar, pre-state years.