Homeland (2008) – By Cary Conley

Kobi is an Israeli who comes to America after his mandatory military service is completed in Israel.  Working in his best friend’s Brooklyn ice cream shop, Kobi is haunted by his killing of an innocent Palestinian man during his stint in the army.  He spends his time working and saving his money so he can escape his family, friends, memories, and identity by moving to South America.

Leila is an 18-year-old Palestinian girl completing her last year of schooling and living with her traditional Muslim family.  She chafes at the racism she experiences and secretly removes her hijab when her family isn’t watching.  She and her rebellious friends enjoy going to the ice cream shop for an after-school treat instead of the library to study.

Kobi is immediately taken by Leila’s beauty, and Leila becomes smitten as well.  But as the two embark upon a forbidden friendship that ultimately ends up as a romance, the disparity between the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints make the relationship very difficult.  Further complicating matters are Kobi’s close-minded friend who warns him that “Muslim women don’t have casual sex” and Leila’s traditionalist family, especially her troubled brother who is under the influence of a powerful Imam.  As he becomes more fundamentalist, he threatens the very fiber of the family, especially Leila who he perceives as humiliating her family due to her less traditional views.

As the relationship continues to develop—and Leila’s brother discovers the secret of the two lovers—Kobi and Leila plot their escape even as Leila must go into hiding to protect herself from her family.  Will the two make good their escape, or will their hopes be dashed by Leila’s family?

Homeland is a touching and heartbreaking exploration of the boundaries of familial and romantic love.  Writer/producer Brad Rothschild has scripted a remarkably well-balanced story that manages to remain objective even as both points of view are explored at length.   Director Michael Eldridge shows tremendous skill as he coaxes delicate performances from his two leads—Max Rhyser as Kobi and Yifat Sharabi as Leila—while simultaneously creating a dangerously smoldering character in Leila’s angry, fundamentalist brother.

While the film’s main thrust is to explore the Muslim-Jewish experience through a developing romantic relationship, it also manages to explore themes such as racism and the fundamentalist viewpoint that racist treatment such as “profiling” breeds among some Muslims.

Kudos go to Eldridge and Rothschild both for being brave enough to tackle such a touchy subject and for doing so with a well-balanced and objective sensitivity that is sadly lacking in big-budget Hollywood fare.  The film does an excellent job of breaking down a terribly complicated political and religious debate into an easy to understand explanation without choosing sides.

It is easy to see why this film is a multiple-award-winner on the festival circuit.  I highly recommend it.  For more information, go to www.homelandthefilm.com.