Israeli critics daughter builds bridge to Palestinians

It’s highly unusual for a documentary about relations between Israelis and Palestinians to contain almost no footage of the Middle East.

And yet it makes perfect sense for a portrait of expatriates who’ve left their homes in the West Bank or Israel in search of peace and opportunity.

The two families that are the subject of Danae Elon’s delicately probing “Another Road Home” find themselves in a kind of limbo. The film deftly reflects their displacement with a slew of awkward moments and open-ended sequences, which also serve to put the viewer slightly off-balance.

“Another Road Home” will have its U.S. television premiere April 10 on the Sundance Channel.

The New York-based Elon begins her film at the lovely and quiet country abode in Tuscany where her parents reside. Her father, Amos Elon, is the famous writer and longtime critic of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Danae’s mother, Beth, a literary agent, was born in the States and met Amos some 45 years ago in Washington, D.C.

They moved to Jerusalem after they were married, and following the Six-Day War — with East Jerusalem in Israeli hands and the border erased — a Palestinian man knocked on their door in search of work.

The Elons hired Mahmoud “Musa” Obeidellah on the spot to care for their infant Danae. Musa ending up staying for 20 years, becoming an adjunct to the family. But with their busy careers, Italian home and the intifada, the Elons lost track of Musa in the ’90s and let the friendship wane.

Danae was aware that Musa had worked to send all his sons to America to be educated and pursue careers and lives they couldn’t have on the West Bank. But in post-9/11 America, where men of Arab origin were objects of suspicion, she wondered how they were getting along — and how Musa was surviving under the occupation.

What gives “Another Road Home” its juice are the moral dilemmas presented both explicitly and obliquely. When Danae hands her mother Musa’s phone number and prods her to call him in his village right then and there, Beth’s face is a road map of apprehension and guilt.

Gently yet repeatedly, the filmmaker challenges her liberal parents, whose attitudes toward the Palestinians are both above reproach and — like American parents who employ Polish or Mexican nannies — freighted with condescension.

This is not a get-even-with-the-parents film, nor does Danae let herself off the hook. When she calls the operator to begin the process of locating Musa’s sons in New Jersey, she asks for “Abdullah.” Somehow growing up she could never be bothered to learn Musa’s last name.

Danae finds Musa’s sons in Paterson, N.J.’s Arab community, and the patriarch himself manages to visit the States. “Another Road Home” documents a reunion with elements of affection and forgiveness, but without a satisfying catharsis. Like many reunions, it is also a confirmation of the distance between people.

The meetings also underscore frustrations. Musa’s sons can buy nice homes in New Jersey, but they don’t reside in their homeland. And world-renowned writer Amos Elon believes his words have ceased having impact in Israel.

“I [was] always writing the same thing, basically,” he explains to Danae. “And when you write and it has no echo, then you tend to raise the volume. And I discovered that this is nothing that I would want to go on doing forever.”

“Another Road Home” is beautifully shot and full of yearning, but short on narrative propulsion. At just 78 minutes, it sometimes feels longer.

Near the end, Danae accompanies Musa, a man of immense dignity and quiet strength, on his long journey home. She uses the trip to provide a glimpse of the occupation, from arduous checkpoints to fenced-in villages.

It’s her way of acknowledging that the reunion she instigated changed nothing. It’s likely that neither will her film. But Elon’s great accomplishment is to implicate the audience in the “situation,” and to make us feel as if the ball has been tossed to us.

“Another Road Home” airs at 9 p.m. Monday, April 10; 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 19; and 6:35 p.m. Thursday, April 27 on the Sundance Channel.

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.