REVIEW: Dancing Arabs

6 09 2014

Dancing ArabsTelluride Film Festival

NOTE: This film has since been retitled “A Borrowed Identity,” a moniker somehow both more generic and indicative of the content.

Dancing Arabs” begins with some profound quote musing on the nature of identity that flashed on screen far too quickly for me to transcribe accurately.  But it seemed to foreshadow a profound discussion on the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for that reason, I was quite intrigued.

What unfolds over the subsequent hour and 45 minutes never really fulfills the intellectual depth promised before the action even begins.  With the exception of a tacked-on, unearned conclusion, “Dancing Arabs” remains squarely in the realm of entertainment.  Any statement it tries to make about larger issues feels rather obvious or uninspired.

While the collaboration between Israeli director Eran Riklis and Palestinian screenwriter Sayed Kashua is certainly a commendable step towards reconciliation and understanding, their film does little to further their mission.  “Dancing Arabs” is a disjointed middlebrow drama, comprised of two essentially separate narratives tenuously tied together by a single character.  Riklis never provides any dramatic escalation, either, so the whole enterprise lands rather flatly.

The forbidden romance of protagonist Eyad, an Arab living within the state of Israel, with his Jewish schoolmate Naomi comes across as a slightly more serious retread of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  Their relationship dominates the first half of the film, and then “Dancing Arabs” inexplicably forgets Naomi nearly altogether.  The focus shifts towards Eyad and his friendship with muscular dystrophy-stricken Israeli teen Jonathan, whose deteriorating condition is not entirely bad news for Eyad.

Perhaps each would be more interesting or enlightening if given feature length to develop.  But their loose connection and juxtaposition makes for an dissatisfying union.  In the words of “Parks & Recreation” scene-stealer Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things.  Whole ass one thing.”  C+2stars

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