“Strangers” is about the reach of war, but also about the limits of that reach.
The 2007 Israeli film is part of the Jewcy film series, and will be showing tonight at 8 p.m. at the Schenley Plaza Tent in Oakland. The series is geared toward Jewish moviegoers between the ages of 21 and 35, and “Strangers,” which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, is well suited for the series, focusing on young people struggling with love and war.
During the World Cup finals in the summer of 2006, a young kibbutznik named Eyal (Liron Levo) travels to Berlin to meet up with an old girlfriend. Upon his arrival, though, he finds she won’t take his phone calls. So he begins to wander the city looking for lodging.
On a subway, he accidentally runs into Rana (Lubna Azabal), a Palestinian woman living in France, but traveling through Berlin for reasons both clear and unclear: her maudlin voiceover suggests she is escaping from something, but from what we aren’t yet sure.
The two accidentally switch travel bags, and later arrange to meet and exchange them.
From that point on, the couple cannot separate. Trying to explain the appeal to herself, Rana describes Eyal as “someone unaware of his own strength.” The sense we get, though, is that their mutual attraction is built into the title of the movie. These two characters are both strangers, many miles away from the personal and cultural conflicts of home.
The two look for lodging together, and eventually decide to share the plush quarters they find. But that night, at a bar, Eyal learns that Hezbollah has taken two Israeli soldiers.
This is the start of the Second Lebanon War.
Over the remaining five days portrayed in the movie, personal drama unfolds alongside political drama. Eyal and Rana’s relationship in Europe progresses in step with the war in the Middle East, while the World Cup offers a backdrop of national pride. As teams win and lose, the love affair rises and falls, and the conflict abroad mirrors new conflicts at home. We learn Rana’s story, and watch as her past begins to interfere with her present.
“Strangers” is a movie about disengagement. “We won’t find a solution tonight,” Rana says at the bar that first night. From then on, they stop trying, settling instead for no solution at all. With each new development in the war, Eyal and Rana retreat to private rooms to gather details from home, but they are unable to share their details without conflict.
Every Romeo and Juliet story runs the risk of overextending itself, suggesting that the love of one couple can somehow repair or doom the broader culture. “Strangers” doesn’t even try to suggest that. It’s clear to us that if these characters are able to achieve success in their private lives, their relationship will always be threatened by the realities of home.
This is a movie about the recent past, and directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor shot “Strangers” on digital video, a quicker and cheaper medium that suits the story.
The movie also presents an accurate view of the standard tone of Middle East debate, as Eyal, Rana and a group of Europeans dissect the day’s news: the bombing of a Lebanese building filled with children. The discussion begins with a round of calm, but passionate statements of opinion, followed by a series of well argued rebuttals relying on minute details, which ultimately leads to rising tempers and finally to screaming and profanity.
Just like the war it portrays, “Strangers” closes with a firm decision, but without a resolution. As the credits roll, it’s easy to wonder whether the characters will make it to the Gaza War three years later. Or whether they will make it through the Gaza War.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)