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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Laurence Coriat, Paul Viragh, Michael Winterbottom
prd Melissa Parmenter, Josh Hyams, Luigi Napoleone, Massimo Di Rocco
with Irina Starshenbaum, Douglas Booth, Harry Melling, Ian Hart, Aury Alby, Ofer Seker, Gina Bramhill, Rony Herman, Oliver Chris, Yotam Ishay, Hlib Sukhanov, Ariel Nil Levy
release UK 16.Feb.24
TORONTO FILM FEST
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Powerfully timely and packed with fascinating historical detail, this true story is set in British-occupied Palestine just before World War II broke out. Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom uses a romance as a way into the story, and it's an involving approach. But the film becomes a bit uneven as it switches between love story, political thriller, police procedural, terrorist activism and the seriously powerful personal journey of the title character.
In the late 1930s, Shoshana (Starshenbaum) and her family arrive in Tel Aviv from Russia full of hope for a new Israeli homeland. Working as a journalist, she begins a relationship with British security officer Tom (Booth), who is policing terrorist activity by underground Jewish and Arab groups. His new boss Geoffrey (Melling) arrives from a primarily Arab part of the country to get Tel Aviv under control, and his hardline methods stoke new tensions, especially as he targets Avraham Stern (Alby), leader of the Zionist terrorist group Haganah, which has a connection to Shoshana.
Cleverly shooting in Italy to recreate Bauhaus-style 1930s Israel, Winterbottom uses terrific sunshiny locations and vivid production design. This adds texture to the darkly escalating political situation, as the UN-mandated Britain tries to administer Palestine using straightforward police methods, even as much deeper things develop. It's riveting to watch the escalating tension build, as the Jewish and Arabic underground begins to wage all-out war in the margins of this emerging society. The bombings and murders are intensely shocking.
Starshenbaum is terrific in the central role, underplaying Shoshana to reveal her nuanced thought processes. Things aren't black and white for her, as she balances her desire for peace and justice with her yearning for a Jewish homeland. This filters into her relationship with Tom, whom Booth plays as a charming cop just trying to do his job. He knows what's happening, but approaches the situation matter-of-factly using the rule of law. By contrast, Melling's Geoffrey is a much more fiery figure, played with a terrific sense of moral certainty.
Each of the film's thematic elements is vivid and refreshingly complex, never trying to simplify the situation for a movie audience. This offers remarkable insight into a situation that deteriorated both before and after the Israeli nation was officially formed in 1948. Winterbottom's astute use of newsreel clips grounds the film remarkably, although this almost makes the romance feel like a distracting plot point. But the film's real strength is in Shoshana's arc, because where she ends up is heart-stopping.
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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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