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A Borrowed Identity

A Borrowed Identity

The Israeli coming-of-age drama A Borrowed Identity, adapted by writer Sayed Kashua from his semi-autobiographical novel Dancing Arabs (the film’s original title), examines the life of a gifted Palestinian-Israeli kid whose intelligence gives him the opportunity to transcend the divisions that define the country of Israel. The film begins in the early 1980s as Eyad (Razi Bagareen) is working to repair the antenna that will allow his family to pick up TV from the outside world, rather than subscribe to the cable programming their neighbors run in the predominately Arab Israel city of Tira. Eyad falls and injures himself in the process and his family become cable subscribers, establishing a struggle that will become commonplace in his life. Eyad’s attempts to listen to the outside world instead of his closed-off community are always met with danger and difficulty.

Like many Palestinian-Israeli films of recent years that explore similar themes, A Borrowed Identity is generally pessimistic that the problems which contribute to so much conflict in the region, and which the film explores in microcosm, are likely to be solved anytime soon. The main action of the story begins when American officials choose Eyad out of his class to participate in a cultural exchange program which finds the young man being sent to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem where he’ll be the lone Arab amongst the Jewish population. As Eyad wrestles with issues of language, culture, and identity in his new environment, director Eran Riklis (previously known for The Syrian Bride) allows the drama of his subject’s life to unfold in earnest and sober fashion, always stressing how difficult it is to bridge the gaps that run so deep between the Jewish and Muslim worlds. He also makes this point by punctuating the story with moments of dark humor, such as when Eyad returns home with a fellow classmate for the first time (“I brought my Jew”, he announces), upon which a series of comic misunderstandings lead the visitor to believe Eyad’s family is out to murder him.

Despite the struggles Eyad faces on a daily basis, his story is not one without hope, as well. He makes a series of meaningful connections, first with a disabled student suffering from muscular dystrophy (Michael Moshonov) whom Eyad is assigned with helping, and then the students’ mother (Yael Abecassiss) who is touched by Eyad’s kindness. From these relationships Eyad comes to adapt a wicked sense of pitch-black humor, as well as be exposed to bands whose leftist politics ensure him there are other young people who want to see major changes in his country. One such person, Naomi (Daniel Kitsis), Eyad comes to falls in love with.

All these bonds are tested as the film moves toward its conclusion, as old resentments, family quarrels, and forces beyond Eyad’s control bring his coming of age story to an end—while leaving little else reconciled. But thanks to the strength of direction and acting, A Borrowed Identity ultimately overcomes this nagging problem, and stands as a moving coming-of-age drama as well as an honest and thoughtful look at a very complex and painful struggle—one that nobody, including the filmmakers, can find a solution too.

Watch the trailer for A Borrowed Identity

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