For the right-wing Jerusalemites of this wannabe incendiary period drama, to settle is to settle is to settle. In the Israel-circa-1981 equivalent of suburban flight, recently widowed Rachel (Michaela Eshet) tries to join the founding group of a West Bank religious settlement along with her two teenage daughters. Ideologically extreme, sure, but she digs the real estate opportunity and potential for social acceptance. Invariably, though, this Noah’s ark is a couples-only expedition: Does Rachel want the high-class cantor/egoist or the sweet, pitiable 50-year-old virgin (Moshe Ivgy)?
As it tracks Rachel’s daughters, the film takes a blunt, aggressive detour into gender politics, boldly equating nationalism with rape and settling with, well, putting out. It’s the overblown kicker in a movie loaded with loud metaphors, and we’re eventually grounded in this disturbing micro/macro logic: A girl who won’t fight for independence might end up occupied territory.
American-born, Israeli-raised filmmaker Joseph Cedar certainly aims to provoke—his muddled debut, Time of Favor, followed a young Orthodox soldier’s attempt to blow up the Dome of the Rock—but his aesthetics are too conventional to provide the requisite gut-punch. Still, the timelier elements of Campfire, which cleared house at Israel’s Academy Awards this year, are too salient to dismiss. The film points an accusatory finger at the pioneers’ primitive social dynamics and propaganda peddling. Pre-military teens get pumped with screenings of Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt while the Palestinian question is conspicuously brushed under the rug. Campfire’s awkwardly triumphant final image, which could easily transplant to 2005, begs the question, Good work, but where are we headed?