Jerusalem has been the target of Palestinian terrorist attacks for decades now. During the second Palestinian uprising, from 2000 to 2005, suicide bombers threw themselves into the deadly mix with particular fervor, blowing up buses and causing a wave of fear.
Jerusalem’s horrendous bout with terrorism lies at the core of Yossi Atia’s quirky and appealing feature film, Born In Jerusalem And Still Alive, which will be presented online by the ChaiFlicks streaming service during its Israel Independence Day Film Festival from May 4-9.
The person at its center, Ronen Matalon (Yossi Atia), was born and raised on Jaffa Street, a major thoroughfare in the city. He’s single and in his early 30s. Being unemployed, he seems at loose ends. He owns a modest flat and shares it with a boarder, Simon (Itamar Rose), who’s currently late with his rent.
One morning, Ronen disrupts a standard guided walking tour of Jaffa Street, informing the tourists that this unremarkable stretch of Jerusalem has been a “war zone,” a place where Israelis and foreigners alike have been killed by terrorists over the years.
Ronen is obsessed by terrorist incidents, judging by a subsequent scene during which he dredges up old copies of Israeli newspapers whose front-page headlines and photographs are focused on terrorism.
The following day, he gives his first “terror tour” to two Japanese tourists. Ronen is phlegmatic and socially awkward, but he’s a fairly effective communicator. As he guides them on the tour, he pauses periodically to talk about this or that suicide bombing that claimed the lives of bus riders. As they move on, he gives each tourist a candle to place at a memorial plaque.
The stoic Japanese are impressed by his presentation, basic though it may be, and promise to bring him more customers. More than a dozen Japanese tourists join his second tour, during which he hands out graphic photographs of terrorist attacks. These Japanese tourists are from the Makuya community, a religious group that idolizes Israel. Ronen refuses payment for his services, perhaps because they’re pro-Israel. Atia skillfully portrays Ronen as an austere individual who seems averse to money.
A subplot blends into the narrative. Ronen’s mother died a decade ago, and since then, his father, Meir (Ali Shimonov), a widower, invalid and recluse, has tried to persuade Ronen to live with him. Ronen loves him, but he values his independence and continually rejects his father’s invitation.
The film unfolds over a period of about a year. During this interval, he encounters Asia (Lihi Komowski), an Israeli who’s studying architecture in Barcelona. When the tour ends, they go their separate ways.
In the meantime, Ronen is preoccupied with the task of hiring a live-in companion for his father. He finds a jobless Indian tourist who’s willing to fill that role, but his stubborn father puts up resistance.
Some months later, Ronen spots Asia and summons up the courage to ask her out on a date. Komowski lights up the screen with her charm and sex appeal. They meet at a bar, and while Ronen is not much of a conversationalist, they finish the evening romantically in his apartment.
Their relationship is sporadic and unpredictable. She prepares breakfast for him, but he’s sour and does not appear to appreciate her effort.
Simon, meanwhile, urges Ronen to monetize his tour by selling jerseys and souvenirs. Ronen is not in the least interested in profiting from his tours. By this point, he seems burned out, the tour having taken an emotional impact on him.
Several months pass and Asia returns to Jerusalem with a degree in hand. She contacts Ronen, reigniting their romance. Whether or not it will work is debatable, but its dynamics are certainly intriguing.