(director/writer: Amos Gitai; screenwriter: Stephan Levine; cinematographer: Henri Alekan; editor: Sheherazade Saadi; cast: Shmuel Wolf (beggar-narrator), Simone Benyamini (Esther), Zare Vartinyan (Ahasverus), Mohammed Bakri (Mordecai), Juliano Merr (Haman), David Cohen (Hatak), Rim Bani (singer in Arabic), Sarah Cohen (singer in Hebrew); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ruben Kornfeld/Amos Gitai; Channel Four Films; 1986-Israel-in Hebrew with English subtitles)

Ably tells the Purim story of the Jews.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Israeli leftist leaning filmmaker Amos Gitai (“Tsili”/”Words With Gods”) ably tells the Purim story of the Jews with this faithful translation from The Book of Esther in the Old Testament, while adding on contemporary meanings by gimmicks such as interviewing on the set both Hebrew and Arab crew-members about the current Middle-East situation. Co-writers Gitai and Stephan Levine fill it with provocative ideas but fail to make it that entertaining.

The story is narrated in spurts by a clownish unseen narrator (Shmuel Wolf).

The obese Persian ruler Ahasuerus (Zare Vartinyan) chooses Esther (Simone Benyamini) as his new queen to replace the disfavored unruly Queen Vashti. She’s the beautiful niece of Mordecai (Mohammed Bakri), who is Jewish but the King is not told this. They were exiled in Persia by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. When a palace plot to kill the King is uncovered, Mordecai has Esther inform the King of the danger. It results in Mordecai growing more influential with the King. This makes the King’s loyal adviser, the furtive Haman (Juliano Merr), furious and he orders a senseless war on the Jews.

It’s an experimental film that is visually pleasing and suitably stylish in telling its tale of oppression, displacement and retribution. In its lyrical efforts, it resorts to cinema vérité-like shots of the actors questioned on the set about the movie and how it relates to today’s politics in the Middle-East. In a later film, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in his Taste of Cherry (1997) was able to use such real life shots more adroitly.