Language of the Enemy (2008)

Rating: C+

Dir: Mitch Davis
Star: Eion Bailey, Linda Hardy, F. Murray Abraham, Tovah Feldshuh
a.k.a. A House Divided

This is basically an updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, relocated to the Middle East. Romi (Bailey) travels to Israel after his father was killed by a suicide-bomner, and agrees to do some work for the Israeli intelligence services, the Shin Bet, to identify those behind the attack. Initially reluctant, Romi eventually agrees, after discovering his father had worked for them, undercover, as a baker on the West Bank. His mission is attend the funeral of a young boy killed when he gets caught in crossfire, but the funeral turns violent, and Romi is shot.

His wounds are tended to by a Palestini doctor, Joleh (Hardy), who had previously met Romi at the bakery, picking up some bread, and whose family has close ties to the PLO. Inevitably (hey, I told you this was Romeo and Juliet), the pair fall for each other, despite neither’s family being exactly overcome with delight. To make matters worse, Joleh’s family want her to marry an officer in the local forces, and he is unimpressed by the prospect of her marrying a Jew, particularly one who spied for the Israelis. I’m still on the fence about as to whether this works or not, as a movie. The film wants to be even-handed, but we’re talking about the Middle East here: neutrality is close to impossible. While obviously trying to say that the differences between the sides are not as great as they seem, I’m not sure it has much of a handle on what it means to be Jewish or Islamic; here, faith appears more a plot-device than anything else.

And the romance between Romeh and Joleh is too rushed: they get married after having known each other less than a week, an aspect which doesn’t feel very credible. That said, Bailey and Hardy do their best to convince you of their sincerity, and for me, they had pulled it off by the time we headed towards the ending. I was wondering if the director would have the fortitude to follow through on his basic premise and deliver the tragedy necessary to the plot, or if he’d wimp out. I’m pleased to report Shakespeare is not spinning in his grave. Even if the convolutions necessary for that e.g. a coincidental news story Romi sees at the airport, are a little awkward, I’ll give it a passing grade since, for all its mis-steps, the results here are still effective enough to be memorable.