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DANCING IN JAFFA (director/writer: Hilla Medalia; screenwriter: Philip Shane; cinematographer: Daniel Kedem; editors: Philip Shane/Bob Eisenhardt; music: Krishna Levy/Issar Shulman; cast: Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau, Noor Gabai, Alaa Bubali, Lois Dana; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Diane Nabatoff/Neta Zwebner-Zaibert/Hilla Medalia; IFC Films; 2014-Israel/USA-in English/Arabic/Hebrew, with English subtitles)
“Cautiously optimistic social conscious film about dancing used to promote positive attitudes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Hilla Medalia(“Web Junkie”/”To Die in Jerusalem”/”Happy You’re Alive“), an Israeli, directs this cautiously optimistic social conscious film about dancing used to promote positive attitudes by teaching Jewish and Palestinian children to dance together. Internationally renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine (Irish soldier father and a French Palestinian mother) returns to his hometown of Jaffa (a suburb of Tel Aviv) and over a ten-week period tries to work his Dancing Classroom magic on the divided religious community. Pierre’s family left Jaffa in 1948, after the war, when he was only four, to live in the United States. Yvonne Marceau, Pierre’s elegant former dance partner, is recruited to help in the lessons.

The reluctant 11-year-old children are recruited from five local schools (two Palestinian-Israeli, two Jewish-Israeli and a fifth, an integrated one). The students are made to confront issues of their life-long prejudices by dancing ballroom dances together (such as rhumbas, tangos and merengues). We are shown how through the universal language of dance such hatreds and rigid attitudes can change for the better. Problem is the two groups have built-in barriers against coming together and many resist the efforts of the well-meaning instructor. Those that don’t, find the dance program to be a success despite all the mishaps.

The director follows three students: Noor Gabai, the angry Palestinian; Alaa Bubali, a quiet impoverished Palestinian boy and Lois Dana, an open-minded and outgoing Jewish girl.

What the simplistic but well-crafted and well-intended film confirms, is that the issues are complex and it will take more than dancing lessons to bring the two antagonistic groups peacefully together.Nevertheless, I guess, it doesn’t hurt trying to improve things by at least taking these baby first steps.

REVIEWED ON 11/19/2014 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”