Dir: Mushon Salmona. Israel. 2007. 95mins
Closely related to the socially-engaged films of Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, Mushon Salmona's debut compensates for his lack of experience with a healthy dose of anger and frustration. Set in the provincial town Beer Sheba where he grew up, Salmona situates his three interwoven plots among the community's marginal minorities, dealing with characters and an atmosphere Salmonais intimately familiar with.
This is a coming of age tale concerning three adolescents destroyed by the conditions in which they grow up. Schematic and predictable though it may be, Vasermil offers an authentic portrait of provincial life for first and second generation immigrants to Israel. The three boys playing the leads, none of them professional actors, acquit themselves admirably. If correctly handled and pushed ahead through festival dates, there is a chance for modest, selective international distribution after winning an audience prize at Jerusalem and subsequent programming at the Thessaloniki film festival.
The intro sets the mood of the entire piece. Dima (David Teplithzky) steals a scooter just for the hell of it, rides it home and then abandons in a ditch. The owner of said scooter, pizza-delivering boy Shlomi (Nadir Eldad), is consequently kicked out of his job by his boss. Later that evening, Adiel (Adiel Zamro) who has now found the abandoned scooter, sits down next to it and munches the pizza that had to be delivered but never was. Shlomi finds him, believes he is the thief, beats him up and retrieves the damaged scooter.
Next comes the stage of establishing each one's identity, just in case it hadn't been made clear before (Israeli audiences wouldn't need much of an explanation). Dima is a new Russian immigrant, Adiel is Ethiopian and Shlomi is a second-generation immigrant from Aden. Dima's father is an unemployed drunk, a brute that dreams of going to Germany to join his brother. In the meantime he mistreats his family and indulges in bouts of self-pity. Shlomi's mother does not live with his father anymore. His older brother is a foot soldier for a second-rate local gangster, and both siblings hate their adoptive parent. Adiel lives with his mother, sickly and evidently in a state of constant depression and has to assume full responsibility for his younger brother, who looks up to him in admiration.
Dima pushes drugs in school for a minor dealer. Adiel sniffs glue and deems himself a peace-loving rasta without actually understanding the meaning of the word. Shlomi is desperate to get back his pizzeria job. All three of them need money, all three come from dysfunctional families and feel protective of their mothers, and all theme belong to a community which views the others with something pitched in-between suspicion and hatred.
All three neglect their scholastic duties and are about to be expelled. Short of accepting school discipline in the person of the gym teacher who also coaches the school's soccer team and needs each one of them (Vasermil is the name of the sports stadium). As rebellious as they are to the notion of playing together, soccer turns to be the great equalizer which could almost break down the barriers separating them, but the world in which they live does not permit any false hope of this kind.
Shot in a documentary style with Ram Shweky's handheld camera staying close to the characters at all times, Salmona's work gels around the three youngsters and by the correct observations of the melting pot that Israel is supposed to be. All three youngsters, representing separate deprived minorities, speak Hebrew without an accent, but their relations are very much determined by the colour of their skin, the ethnic origin of their families, and their closed communities.
There is no allegiance at all to the country they live in, and even in soccer they are surrounded by ignorance, brutality and petty crime. And there is no evidence in sight that such common grounds will be established anytime soon.
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Haim Frank Ilfman