Israeli films take Round Trip to lesbian and gay festival

Nurit is not an easy woman to like. Tough, tense and unhappy, she gives little to her children and less to her husband.

But on the occasions that we glimpse this bus driver’s softer side — and there comes a time in the engrossing Israeli drama “Round Trip” when she positively glows — Nurit is a joy to be around.

“Round Trip” screens next week in the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which should give you a hint where the story goes. It is being co-presented by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and sponsored by the LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation.

Early in the film, Nurit grabs her daughter, Hila, and son, Zonar, leaves her loving husband and sunny flat in Kiryat Shmona and heads to Tel Aviv. This is a move born of desperation, not a plan, and it doesn’t begin promisingly: To cover the rent on their overpriced dump in a dicey neighborhood, Nurit finds herself driving a bus again.

“Round Trip” plays like a slice of real life, with events unfolding at their own unexpected pace. Director Shahar Rozen avoids the impression that he has an agenda or message to impart; this isn’t an epic story about the corrupting influence of the big city or reinventing one’s identity or even discovering one’s sexuality.

The suicide bomb attacks on public buses in recent years lend an ominous tension to every scene of Nurit at the wheel, but the risk is never mentioned. It’s apparent that Nurit isn’t a person to be intimidated by anything or anyone. And, after all, every Israeli lives under a cloud of danger.

The multicultural Tel Aviv setting does, however, allow for some understated insights into immigration and racism. The family’s African neighbors — including the Ghanian woman who moves in to cook and look after the children when Nurit is at work — are tolerated by Israeli society solely because they do the menial jobs that, presumably, Palestinian workers once did.

Like the mother in the recent Israeli film “Broken Wings,” Nurit is tired and overworked, and more than a tad self-centered. Interestingly, both movies suggest that a single mom’s biggest challenge isn’t supporting the family economically but fulfilling her own needs without forgetting about her children’s.

As its title promises, “Round Trip” comes full circle at the end with Nurit and the children returning to Kiryat Shmona — though not to her husband. She’s learned, possibly, that acting tough and independent doesn’t protect against loneliness so much as guarantee it.

Nurit has also begun to establish a nurturing relationship with her daughter, although I suspect Hila has some unanswered questions about that Ghanian nanny.

The festival includes a couple of revealing Israeli documentaries, including a powerfully unflinching film that follows the top-ranked women’s pro soccer team Hapoel Tel Aviv as they pursue a second straight Israeli National Cup trophy.

“Forerunners” focuses on three players from disparate backgrounds, and filmmakers Pazeet Ben Hayl and Galit Shaked cram their hourlong movie with socioeconomic observations. Salwa is a Christian Arab who has to earn every small bit of respect she gets, while the Ukrainian immigrant Inna, whom we touchingly see calling her old-country grandmother from pay phones, can only find disheartening temp jobs.

They and their teammates play in the shadow of Sylvie, a speedy, driven Ashkenazi superstar with dyed blond hair and music-video charisma. “Forerunners” blends gritty reality, the tension of competition and a touch of offbeat humor into a gripping piece with far more resonance than the average sports film.

In the video diary “Almost There,” lovers Joelle and Sigal leave Israel and Sigal’s family — who are unaware of and wouldn’t accept her lesbianism — in search of a soothing home in the Greek isles. Humorless and narcissistic, the duo analyze their situation for 52 long minutes. Thankfully, there’s always a fabulous vista in the background.

That program, co-presented with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. opens with “Yellow Peppers,” a vibrant and endearing portrait of a lesbian couple who open a Jerusalem soup bar. This half-hour student doc doesn’t deliver much in the way of a narrative, but it teems with life, energy and the thrill of making movies.

“Round Trip” screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 24, at the Castro Theatre, Castro at Market, S.F. “Forerunners” plays at 6 p.m. Monday, June 21, and “Almost There” screens with “Yellow Peppers” at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at the Roxie Cinema, 3117 16th St., S.F. Tickets: $6-$9. (925) 866-9559, or

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.