Aliyah’s Diasporic Ennui Achieves an Impressive Universality


A tense and subtle drama of petty crime, emigration, and escaping the demands of family with a full-bore dive into heritage, writer-director Elie Wajeman’s Aliyah could be titled Down and Out in Paris and Hebrew School—and, like Orwell, it’s interested in life as it’s actually lived in the less swoony precincts of the City of Lights. Star Pio Marmai has one of those gorgeous Gosling faces, the kind where a hopeful boyishness still haunts features that life has sharpened to hardness; with a tender resolve, his character Alex tries to get the money together to leave behind his life of Parisian drug-dealing to take advantage of a legit investment opportunity in Tel Aviv. That means moving to Israel, which, as you may have heard, is quite a process. To perform his aliyah and reach his Promised Land, Alex—a holidays-only fellow who claims he’ll refuse to serve in the Israeli military—must prove he’s actually Jewish, ace his Hebrew, and sell lots of cocaine. Through all this, his demanding brother (Cedric Kahn) keeps hitting him up for cash, his new goyish lover (Adele Haenel) urges him to stay, and his ex (Sarah Le Picard) reminds him they had once pledged never to abandon the here-and-now for an Israel that has little to do with their lives. Written and performed with an appealing naturalism, Wajeman’s debut achieves an impressive universality despite all the diasporic ennui. Especially potent is the sense that escaping the world you’re raised in does not necessarily mean betraying the world you’re from. A marvelous film, stripped of false urgency.

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