“Bethlehem” A Complex Suspense Thriller (Foreign Film Review)



A cat and mouse thriller, Bethlehem comes to the United States with a complex story that features real places and issues.  The film was Israel’s entrant to the Academy Awards and has received much attention when it played at film festivals around the world.  Now in theaters the film gives insight into the workings of the Israeli Secret Service and the Palestinian resistance movement.

The story centers on Palestinian teenager Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) a recruited informant who has been passing information to the Shin Bet (Israeli Secret Service).  His contact is Razi (Tsahi Halevy), an officer in Shin Bet who befriended Sanfur two years earlier and has been providing a fatherly figure.  In return Sanfur has been giving him information from inside Hamas a Palestinian militant group and the splinter militant faction Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Agent Razi (Tsahi Halevy) and informant Sanfur Shadi Mar'i)

Agent Razi (Tsahi Halevy) and informant Sanfur Shadi Mar’i)

Sanfur’s older brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman) has been setting up bombings in Bethlehem and Razi has been desperately looking for his whereabouts. Although Ibrahim has been becoming a legend among his people, Sanfur being alienated from him is unaware the Shin Bet is targeting his brother. He gets information from his father, a high ranking collaborator of Hamas, which he passes to Razi. When Sanfur gets word that his brother has gone missing, he starts to reconsider his double life.

Hitham Omari as Badawi pausing for tea in BETHLEHEM

Hitham Omari as Badawi pausing for tea in BETHLEHEM

The story, that opens doors to the workings of the Palestinian and Israeli underbelly, gets very compelling showing how delicate communications are inside the warring factions.  Giving a very good performance as the leader of the Al-Aqsa, Hitham Omari plays Badawi a suspicious chief who has a reputation for severity when it comes to leaks in his plans.  He’s determined damage the city of Bethlehem that’s occupied by the Israelis and will stop at nothing to assist in getting it done.  Even the Palestinians are fighting each other for power and can see in Omari’s dialogue delivery that Badawi doesn’t trust the Hamas organization that controls his unit.

Heading the operations for Shin Bet, Levi played ably by Yossi Eini shows he’s hard boiled and pushes his men for information no matter what happens to their informants.  He’s hesitant to keep providing money to his men who pay for information as he knows it’s used to fight back against Israel.  Eini does a remarkable job with his character delivering the fire that shows his determination in getting to a solution to the Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict.

Showing a great deal of ability, newcomers Tsahi Halevy and Shadi Mar’I give a very realistic show with their determined character roles.  As an agent that has a lot to lose, Halevy’s Razi shows his unwavering duty to his country in the face of imminent danger.  Putting his job above his family his character shows the complexities of war and the cost to loved ones.  As Sanfur, Mar’I shows very good acting and understating of what drives his character to turn against his country. He’s conflicted due to his differences shown in his father’s favoritism toward his brother.

Bethlehem has not been rated by the MPPA, but contains language, violence and a scene of drug use. The film comes from Israel and is presented in Hebrew and Arabic with English Subtitles.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A good film laced with strong willed Middle Eastern ideals. (C+)   

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Tsahi Halevy, Shadi Mar’i, Hitham Omari, Hisham Suleiman
Directed by: Yuval Adler
Genre: Foreign, Crime, Drama
Language: Hebrew, Arabic with English Subtitles
MPAA Rating: Unrated, Contains violence, Language, Drug use
Running Time: 1 hr 39 min
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Distributed by: Adopt Films
Awards: Israeli Film Academy (12 nominations, 6 wins including Best Picture)

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