Campfire Joseph Cedar

I had no expectations for Campfire, an Israeli drama that managed to win the country's top movie prize, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I got.

The year is 1981, and recently-widowed Rachel (Michaela Eshet) is leaning towards joining a group of Zionists in a settlement on the West Bank. The obstacles to this plan are a) that the Zionists are uptight bastards who can't decide if they want a single woman running a homestead, and b) her teenage daughters Esti (Maya Mayron) and Tami (Hani Furstenburg) hate the idea with a passion. Tensions run pretty high in Rachel's house, what with Esti having sexual adventures with soldiers and mother trying to crack down, but that's nothing compared to the fear and humiliation waiting for Tami when she meets some boys at a youth camp outing.

Given the social-issue vibe of that précis, you can pretty much picture the production's bland earnestness, but some sharp observations and a few spiky performances lift it out of the muck. Not only is Eshet winning and natural in the central role, but Mayron completely sells her defiant teenager role and Furstenburg is supremely nuanced in her rendering of a timid and tentative character. And writer/director Joseph Cedar generally avoids the "important" movie urge to let speeches do the talking instead of events and characters.

The film stumbles somewhat in the character of Yossi (Moshe Ivgy), a shy bachelor and love interest for Rachel who's too obviously set up as an "aw shucks" alternative to the settlers. But for the most part the film is well-written, satisfying and not without its narrative surprises. (TVA)