Aliyah (2013) [Review]

Director: Elie Wajeman
Writer(s): Gaëlle Macé and Elie Wajeman
Cast: Pio Marmaï, Cédric Kahn, Adèle Haenel, and Guillaume Gouix
Rated: Not rated
Sites: IMDb/trailer Official Facebook
Notes: Film is distributed by Film Movement

Aliyah Movie ReviewFilm Movement is no stranger when it comes to putting out films tackling topics often circling Middle Eastern cultures and countries. However, their latest release, Aliyah, had an interesting spin that made it more of simply a look into the lives and dilemmas of a Middle Eastern cultures. Aliyah actually takes place in Paris, France where a very Westernized young man named Alex (Pio Marmaï) lives.

Though Alex, who deals drugs as his primary occupation, loves Paris, he’s gotten tired of lending money to his older brother Isaac (Cédric Kahn) who only seems to come around when he needs something. We get the feeling Alex is feeling unfulfilled, and almost trapped in the big city where even his own father doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with him. It’s not until his cousin talks about a business venture of opening a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel when Alex finally see’s an opportunity to do something different with his life.

The idea of leaving his Western lifestyle for a land where there’s a constant worry of wars would be a big enough reason for most people to pass on the idea, but Alex jumps on the opportunity as a new life for him, a drastic change that just may be exactly what he needs. However the change won’t be without any obstacles, aside from the language barrier as well as gathering some investment money, the non-practicing Jew must make Aliyah and show his commitment to relocating to the Holy Land. On top of that, Alex meets a beautiful young woman named Jeanne (Adèle Haenel) with whom he quickly develops a relationship with.

What I loved about this story is that its main character is fairly relevant to most Western audiences. Though I love watching films that focus on Middle Eastern cultures, they’re almost always learning experiences for me and I can see why many people might be turned away from those movies.  However with Aliyah, Alex, though having a Jewish background, doesn’t know much of his roots or Israel itself. He doesn’t even seem to care that there are wars going on there, though he doesn’t want to fight, his main goal is just finding somewhere new and making a legitimate living. So in a way I felt like I was learning a lot with Alex as he went through the various stages and decisions he did, rather than me just simply feeling like the outside party looking in.

The film really is presented quite well all around. Chances are any film shot somewhere I haven’t been is going to be visually appealing to me but this film does have very nice locations that did not seem like the cliche Parisian locations. The filming style felt as natural as the locations did, with a lot of natural movement with the characters but not to the point where you wanted to feel sick. And of course the acting topped it all off, as I easily bought into the characters and enjoyed each of the performances.

The few things I had problems with were nitpicky for the most part – for example I’m no drug dealer, but I felt the scenes involving Alex making his transactions were insanely obvious. But again, those minor details didn’t stop me from really loving this story and how it played out. In just about all the films I review involving Middle Eastern topics I talk about appreciating the eye-opening aspect of the films. This film had that, but also had a different type of lead character that made it a bit more unique and enjoyable for me. The relationship and family drama, slight bit of crime, and personal conflict and growth all blend together quite well here and make the film both very entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.