If you don’t really come from anywhere, running away to find yourself doesn’t necessarily provide the belonging you’re looking for. Through the travails of a young wayward girl, Birth Right explores this common human condition. But the Inbar Horesh film also takes on the issue of the Israeli policy of repatriation, and in order to get a full accounting of this moving short, we must understand the backstory.
Repatriation says that Jews from anywhere in the world can come to Israel and gain citizenship. The long standing law does provide for wiggle room, though.
For instance, the main character isn’t technically a Jew because it’s her father who has the Jewish roots. That said, a downside dictates that Nataliya (Nataliya Olshanskaya) will not be guaranteed the Israeli protections that come with matrilineal descent.
The actress’s own repatriation story inspiring Horesh’s screenplay, an organization called Birthright provides the backdrop. They seek potential emigres and don’t really set a high bar for applicants. They are mostly interested in signing on as many as possible and Nataliya’s example makes the point. A young girl on the run, she doesn’t even identify with being Jewish.
Nonetheless, Nataliya is off on a Birthright type trip to a remote Bedouin Arab village and the tour guide doles the mission. “Israel is the historical homeland of our ancestors. It is the land that our grandparents and great grandparents dreamed to return. And you, all of you, have the opportunity to fulfill this dream.”
His back to the barren desert, you get a sense of the long journey Jews have had to take as the bus moves through the topography. Of course, the discourse is all yada, yada, yada to Nataliya, and the complete break with her mother tells us exactly why. “Fuck you Mom,” she texts.
The superficial acquaintance with a couple of fellow travelers doesn’t merit such a good beginning either. They’re more interested in getting a tan and hooking up with soldiers than embarking on anything resembling substance. “What else is there to do in Israel if not flirting with soldiers,” boasts Asya (Liza Staroselsky)
The playful, old time Hebrew score only adds to the frivolity and tends to alienate an outsider like Nataliya.
In keeping, Shlomi (Anton Makalenko ) is a repatriated soldier from Russia who is ready to oblige, and Makalenko brings the necessary swagger and charisma in his portrayal. A dynamic that hovers a spring break type aura over the outreach and has real life basis, according Horesh. “People are actually coming on these trips so men and women can meet each other. It’s actually part of the agenda in a very formal way,” she told Stephen Silver of the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
So much for the lofty ideals and they sink even further when the girls inevitably backstab and bicker for the affections of the soldiers. Kristina Sim and Liza Staroselsky play the cat fight perfectly but youthful exuberance always has a way of bringing people together. Thus, the hard feelings falling easy prey, Israel looks like one big welcoming party, and the old style Hebrew music reinforces the feeling.
Of course, there will always be those who are left out, and the continual long view of the desert cinematography by Ilya Marcus reinforces the loneliness. This even as Nataliya connects with another lost repatriate, and Olshanskaya’s reluctant and foreboding portrayal signals that her character has bitten off more than she can chew. In turn, Nataliya leaves us looking out at the desert, and the vast expanse foretells the struggle ahead.
As for the geopolitical message, Horesh lets the world in on what Birth Right is really railing against. “If the government is offering citizenship to non-Jews from outside of Israel, why not give citizenships to the non-Jews that already live in Israel,” Horesh reasoned in the JTA.
A good question and the inside information will make Birth Right worth your while.