YELLOW ASPHALT (Asphalt Zahov)

(director/writer: Danny Verete; cinematographer: Yoram Millo; editors: Anna Finkelstein/Zak Hana/Rahel Yagi; music: Yves Touati; cast: Sami Samir(Abed), Mottie Katz (Shmuel), Raida Adon(Suhilla), Hagit Keler (Anat), Tatjana Blacher(German Wife), Abed Zuabi (Sliman, Bedouin Husband of German), Zevik Raz (Truck driver), Moshe Ivgi (Truck driver); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Danny Verete; New Yorker Films; 2001-Israel-in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)

“A sobering, impartial look at the human condition.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Israeli director-writer Danny Verete’s tense allegory consists of three unrelated stories set in the Judean desert (shot on location in the Negev) that highlight the inevitable conflict between the contrasting modern western culture and the traditional Bedouins. It’s a sobering, impartial look at the human condition, done in the fashion of an eye-opening journalist report, that dramatically studies the Bedouin way of life in a way that rarely has been captured on film. In an even-handed manner it reflects on formal conventions, nomadic relations with Jews, and personal passions.

The first story is entitled Black Spot, and is the shortest, weakest and most undeveloped of the three. Speeding around a curve in their tanker truck two Israelis (Moshe Ivgi and Zevik Raz) accidentally run over a little Bedouin boy leading his donkey across the desert road and before they can flee the scene are confronted by a number of tribesmen seeking justice. In a tense standoff without words, the two sides stare each other down and seem on a violent collision course until an incomprehensible solution is arrived at that honors the Bedouin loss.

The middle story is entitled Here Is Not There. A Bedouin woman, her head covered and her face veiled, is called to the Bedouin elders’ tent and after some discussion the three elders rule that even though she no longer loves her husband Sliman, she must remain married and care for their two daughters. The next morning the woman collects her two daughters and flees. She is frightened because she’s aware that her husband will most likely kill her for disobeying the elders, as it’s written in the tribal customs. In her escape, she flags down an Israeli tour bus driver and tries to get the startled driver to leave before her pursuing husband arrives. Taking off her veil she further reveals she is a German known as Tamam, once she was called Tatjana, and now is stuck in an impossible marriage she can’t get out of.

The last story, Red Roofs, is the longest, most complex and most revealing about both cultures and their lack of understanding about each other’s beliefs, as it depicts the dire consequences when the opposing cultures cross paths in forbidden intimacy. Jewish desert farmer and family man Shmuel (Motti Katz) has been having an affair for the last two years with his married Bedouin housekeeper Suhilla (Raida Adon). The other Bedouin worker, Abed (Sami Samir), is caught in the middle, not liking what he sees but not reporting it to his tribal elders. When the tribal children spot Suhilla kissing another man in a remote desert spot, they report it to her husband. He administers a beating and she runs away to the Jewish farmer for support, but he callously turns his back on her after telling her he’ll always be there for her. The affair leads to an unforgiving and brutal outcome, changing the lives of all concerned.

Verete avoids sermonizing, as the stories somehow connect by pitting amoral, self-absorbed, money-hungry Jews against primitive tribesmen with draconian ideas of justice. The cynical and bleak stories point out that the two worlds are on a collision course and there’s no middle ground to straddle. I’m afraid the dismal lesson, which unfortunately might be the reality in modern Israel, is that you can be friendly with the other side but you better not become intimate with them or else you must pay the price. By showing the worst of both worlds and by being so reductive, Verete leaves us no choice but to believe that anyone who strays from his own culture will be left without a home in modern Israel.

This unique film, cast with members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, took seven years to make and was completed before the Intifada in 2000.

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