In 1947 British-occupied Jerusalem, a precocious patriot faces conflicting expectations of loyalty in this terminally mild, ill-structured adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel Panther in the Basement. Barely squeaking by the citywide curfews, 11-year-old Proffy (Ido Port) strikes up a friendship with one would-be enforcer, Sergeant Dunlop (Alfred Molina), an amateur Hebrew enthusiast. This riles Proffy’s buddies, with whom he used to plot junior-guerrilla actions, and causes grief for his protective parents, who secretly harbor full-grown resistors. Director Lynn Roth’s treatment is better at memoirish moments (e.g., Proffy rambling through narrow streets) than with the main, partly didactic story of two mismatched friends’ path to transnational understanding through chumminess. Despite being at the center of the film, Port conveys little sense of interior life, but he can be morbidly interesting to watch (unlike Molina’s bluff-limey shtick). Effortlessly importunate, Port has a needling edge that almost never lets up, no matter the scene. When Dunlop ships out, the movie abruptly latches on to Proffy’s boob fixation, then veers again to a communal celebration and a truly schmaltzy reunion years later. Set during a fascinating and hard-to-reduce moment in history, the movie steers clear of any but the most basic conflicts and resolutions.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 13, 2009