Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2020: Our Review of ‘The Dead Of Jaffa’

Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2020: Our Review of ‘The Dead Of Jaffa’

In The Dead of Jaffa, George Habib (Yussuf Abu-Warda) and his wife Rita (Ruba Blal-Asfour) face a shocking event. Three children from the West Bank are smuggled across the border into Israel and dropped on their doorstep. These children claim to be distant relatives of George and having lost their parents. They are quickly embraced by childless Rita though George remains wary out of fear of the potential consequences of taking them in. A British director lands nearby to shoot a sweeping historical drama. And George is invited to play a small but pivotal role in the film. As he struggles with what to do with the children, George accepts the role. All the while he’s attempting to keep his family’s secret.

Directed by Ram Loevy, Jaffa is a story of courage and love that addresses the pain that can be caused by misinformation and ignorance. Loevy’s film weaves a Hollywood narrative into George’s family drama. It thus speaks to the temptation to ignore the pain of the past in an effort to give ease to the present. One of the best examples of this comes through the character of Jerry Philips (Jonny Phillips), director of the film-within-a-film, Jaffa ’48. Passionate about his own vision of authenticity, Phillips casts George in a small but key role within his project.

Phillips’ spins his Hollywood love story. But his daughter challenges him for absolving a character of murder, simply because it makes him uncomfortable. For the director, his deeply ‘personal story’ demonstrates a complete insensitivity to the people of the area. It reinforces half-truths and stereotypes. Meanwhile, despite these misappropriations of history, George remains content to ‘play his part’ onscreen without objection. Phillips’ actions display his ignorance of true history. But George’s lack of response reveals an appalling indifference to the situation which, arguably, is far worse.

While hardly a villain himself, George’s fear causes him to turn a blind eye to the offence, opting instead to keep the status quo. A simple man caught in complicated times, George has little interest in opening his eyes to what’s happening around him (or what has come before). At home, George refuses to acknowledge the ghosts of the dead who live next door. Meanwhile, at work, he shuts his door to keep the conflict out of sight. However, as the children begin to open his eyes to the injustices around him, his passion and resolve begin to solidify. As such, The Dead of Jaffa uses George’s journey as a call for peace among the people of Israel. At the same time, it faces the sins of the past.

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Born at a very early age, Steve is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. When he first saw Indiana Jones steal the cross of Coronado, he knew his world would never be the same and, since then, he’s found more and more excuses to digest what’s in front of him onscreen. Also, having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (x2) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation. You can hear his ramblings on ScreenFish Radio wherever podcasts are gettable or at his website, ScreenFish.net.
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