Udi Aloni doesn’t shy away from his inspirations. His Middle Eastern rap drama Junction 48 is as much a star vehicle for Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar as 8 Mile was for Eminem, and Aloni even goes so far as to borrow the basic story outlines of Curtis Hanson’s 2002 film: It’s yet another chronicle of a poor young man’s efforts to transcend his circumstances by becoming a hip-hop star. And though its setting — Lod, a mixed Palestinian-Jewish city in Israel — offers some differentiation, Junction 48 mostly sticks to uplifting formula, rarely offering anything particularly fresh or interesting.
Worse than the clichés, though, is its simplistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within this racially mixed town. All of the Israelis in Junction 48 are varying shades of villainous: ultra-nationalist rappers, racist police officers, faraway authority figures who order a Palestinian father and son’s home razed in order to build an ironically named Museum of Coexistence. By contrast, even if some of the Palestinian characters engage in illegal activities, they’re generally painted as a virtuous lot, unwilling victims of dastardly Israelis.
Naturally, Nafar gets to play the most noble Palestinian of them all, throwing down clever rhymes and infectious beats. But even when his character, Kareem, is forced to decide between his art and the safety of his singer girlfriend, Manar (Samar Qupty), there’s never any doubt he’s on the side of angels. Junction 48 may be based on Nafar’s own experiences, but the feeling of witnessing a vanity project is difficult to shake.
Directed by Udi Aloni
Opens March 3, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2017