Keren Yedaya’s movie, Jaffa, is stunningly impactful and remarkably realistic.
Now available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform, this raw, gritty and tragic Israeli drama takes place in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood in greater Tel Aviv.
Given its locale, the main characters are Jews and Arabs. Reuven (Moni Moshonov), a middle-aged Jew, employs his two unmarried children, Meir (Roi Assaf) and Mali (Dana Ivgy), and two local Israeli Arabs, Hassan (Hussein Yassein Mahajneh) and his son, Toufik (Mahmoud Shalaby), in his small garage.
Meir, a sullen type, is a lousy worker. Toufik, on the other hand, is conscientious and productive. Reuven is acutely aware of his son’s deficiencies and says so. Yet he has no clue that Toufik and Mali, who have known each other since childhood, are secret lovers.
As they go about their jobs, tensions flare. Meir resents Toufik due to Reuven’s positive attitude toward Toufik’s work ethic. So when Toufik asks Meir for a little time off to complete a chore, Meir bares his teeth and unilaterally threatens to fire him. Judging by his scathing comments, Meir is clearly anti-Arab.
Even Meir’s mother, Osi (Ronit Elkabetz), has a low opinion of him. Such is her attitude that she orders Meir to leave the modest flat they all share.
Much to Meir’s annoyance, Toufik returns to the garage. Meir punches him and a fight ensues during which Meir is knocked down and seriously injured. Toufik has no alternative but to resign.
Jaffa unfolds in a minimalist, stripped-down style bereft of flourishes. At times, it resembles a stark documentary, particularly when the camera pans on the weathered, picturesque streets of Jaffa, where I lived in the early 1970s. The actors turn in honest, superb performances, but the characters they portray are crafted as one dimensional.
In the wake of Meir’s altercation with Toufik, Mali tells her father she is eight weeks pregnant and insists she will not have an abortion. Claiming she was impregnated by an unnamed married man, she mentions Toufik not even once, realizing her parents would stoutly disapprove of her relationship with an Arab.
In an attempt to rebuild her life, Mali informs Toufik she has had an abortion and is severing all ties with him. Shortly afterwards, she gives birth to a girl, Shiran (Lily Ivgy).
Nine years elapse and Toufik makes a cold call to Mali. She is reluctant to see him, but eventually she relents. When they finally meet, she tells him about Shiran. His reaction borders on the childish, leaving her in tears. They meet again, but cannot resolve their awkward situation.
Torn by guilt and remorse, Mali confides in her parents. The ensuing scenes are powerful and speak directly to the virtual taboo regarding Jewish-Arab relationships and marriages in Israel.
Jaffa, set to a heart-rending Arab musical score by Shushan as it approaches its denouement, leaves a viewer moved and transfixed by its power.