Romeo & Juliet in the Gaza Strip (Film Review: “A Borrowed Identity”)

A Borrowed Identity is a modern day tale of star-crossed lovers across the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

SnapShot Plot

Several films in recent years have tackled the thorny subject of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, with some taking the approach of a star-crossed lover narrative, or one in which the innocence of Arab and Jewish children is challenged, and ultimately sacrificed. In Eran Riklis’s 2014 film, A Borrowed Identity, we get both. The story begins in 1982 and is told through the eyes of young Eyad, a bright young Arab boy whose loving family lives in a neighborhood close to the wall separating Jerusalem from the recently formed Palestine. Through a clever conceit having to do with the family’s TV reception, we get the historical context of the conflict vis-à-vis state and local news broadcasts and programs, illustrating not only the level of propaganda rampant in the media coverage of the day, but also how enmeshed the two cultures – Arab and Israeli – had been for generations.

When Eyad is selected to attend a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem – much like a foreign exchange student, for how exotic he and the Jewish kids consider each other – his entire world view is about to change dramatically, especially when he meets a beautiful, vivacious Jewish student named Naomi. While Eyad’s bond with Naomi deepens into a romantic relationship, he forges another bond with Jonathan, a boy from school whose degenerative disease has him in a wheelchair. As much as Eyad pines for his home and feels like a second class citizen or worse, living in Jewish Jerusalem, he finds solace in the love and friendship shown to him by Naomi, Jonathan, and Edna (his single mother who takes him in as a second son, in a dignified portrayal by Yaël Abecassis). But soon the strain of his secret love, as well as Jonathan’s quickly diminishing health, prove insurmountable obstacles in Eyad’s life, with unpredictable consequences that will indelibly define his future.



Parting Shot

Written by Sayed Kashua (based on his own novel), A Borrowed Identity is fascinating in its depiction of two separate yet forever entwined cultures, so close in many ways yet divided by generations of mistrust and animosity. In the casting of somber Tawfeek Barhom as Eyad and the effervescent Daniel Kitsis as Naomi, the film symbolizes the juxtaposition between the poorer, downtrodden Palestine and the more privileged and optimistic Israel, albeit in very general terms. But rather than settle for prototypes, A Borrowed Identity takes those caricatures of the Arab and the Jew and tilts them toward a truer reality, through the lens of youth and the ability of certain people to look past stereotype, as much as their fate will allow, that is. On a philosophical level, the film seems to ask and answer questions about the true nature of family and friendship, with an ending which will prove perplexing to some and comforting to others. At a time when the loudest voices on our world stage are ranting about higher walls, films like this help to remind us what a painful fall that drop can be.

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