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by Leonard Maltin
March 7, 2014 12:02 AM
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Courtesy of Adopt Films

A tense, topical thriller set in the title city, Bethlehem would be worthy of praise under any circumstances; the fact that it’s a debut feature for director Yuval Adler, and populated with non-professional actors, makes it all the more impressive. (Adler also co-wrote the film with Arab journalist Ali Waked.)

The film deals with an Israeli Secret Service policeman and his relationship with one of his “assets,” or informants. The Israelis regularly recruit young people to provide them with much-needed information. Bethlehem is Palestinian-occupied but the object of internecine warfare among a variety of factions vying for power. There is no room for sentiment here, and loyalties can shift at a moment’s notice.

The agent feels almost fatherly toward his 17-year-old protégé, whom he conscripted two years ago. But this isn’t just any informant: he’s also the kid brother of the most fearsome terrorist in the area.

There are many threads in this dynamic and provocative story, all of them absolutely credible. Adler wants to show us that there are no absolute good guys or bad guys on either side of this ongoing struggle. By making his points in the context of a vivid, authentic story he has created an exceptional film that’s hard to forget.

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