Seventeen-year-old Sanfur desperately tries to juggle his allegiances: care for his father Abu and his older brother Ibrahim, wanted for a bombing in East Jerusalem. Ravi pressures Sanfur for information, while Israeli colleagues critique Ravi's lack of effectiveness. Within each faction, contentious divisions lead to trouble. No relationships escape the lies, double dealings, and political power plays that define this world. The Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade clash; families show the pressure; and individuals experience continual distress.
The complicated story accurately presents real incidents. As director Adler explained at the film's Telluride Film Festival premiere, research and writing intertwined, leading, for example, to inclusion of Hamas' and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade members contesting rights to a corpse. Striving for even-handedness in his presentation, director Adler co-wrote "Bethlehem" with Ali Vakad, an Arab journalist. He employed Israeli and Arab crew members and locations.
Remarkably, this is Adler's debut feature film. Moreover, the three main actors--Shadi Mar'i as Sanfur, Tsahi Halevi as Razi, and Hitham Omari as Badawi--are from the world the film depicts. Though not professional actors, the intensity of their interactions and the charismatic presence of each express the emotional turmoil and the intellectual anguish. No simplistic answers are possible or offered.
"Bethlehem" was Israel's candidate for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. Taking the viewer into its world, "Bethlehem" is insightful and honest and has generated productive discussion after screenings here in the U.S. and in the Mideast. In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.