"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Tale of Nicolai and the Law of Return

A prize-winning film, The Tale of Nicolai and the Law of Return (2008), directed by David Ofek, tells about a Romanian young father who comes to Israel as a foreign worker. Although the film is a documentary – it stretches the definition of documentary filmmaking. The entire story is a retelling of a true story told by a voice-over narrator, which detracts from the authenticity of the story, but adds to the drama and irony.

As a foreign worker in Israel, Nicolai and his friends work for a company that exploits them, taking a large percentage of their wages in return for having brought them to Israel and providing them with work. Nicolai eventually decides to quit this job and take control of his own work situations and earnings, thereby losing his work permit and becoming an illegal worker. Along the way, he learns that Jews are permitted to come to live in Israel and receive full rights as citizens. Knowing that he has a Jewish grandmother, he sends his wife searching for documents to prove his Jewish roots. Meanwhile, he is arrested and deported. When Nicolai returns with his wife and two sons to live in Israel as new immigrants, he opens a small renovations company and the family settles down.

The voice-over narrator refers to the fact that the Law of Return, which was amended in the 1970's, actually uses the criteria of the Nuremberg laws. According to the Nazis, a Jew was someone who had at least one Jewish grandparent. Thus, in Israel today, a non-Jewish Romanian worker can be treated well, provided with spending money and free language lessons just because one of his grandparents was born Jewish.

The film expresses a criticism of how foreign workers are treated. It is also about the complexities of national identity, and can raise a heated discussion about the Law of Return. In the post-Holocaust reality of Israel, we continue to use a Holocaust definition of "Who is a Jew" for the purpose of aliyah. Isn't this an irony?

The film is available from Eden Productions, Ltd. –

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