Tomer Shushan’s 19-minute film, White Eye, has been short-listed for this year’s Academy Award in the short live-action category. Screened at movie festivals in Israel and abroad, it has won a succession of awards.
Unfolding in real-time at night in Tel Aviv’s dingy meatpacking district, it ostensibly deals with a bicycle theft. But on a deeper level, it’s about the African migrants from Eritrea and Sudan struggling to earn a living and trying to stay out of trouble so that the authorities do not send them back to their countries of origin.
Shushan’s film is based on reality. In recent years, thousands of Africans have poured into Israel to escape poverty and political instability. The Israeli government has made every effort to repatriate them.
Filmed in one continuous take, White Eye centers around Omer (Daniel Gad), a young man who finds his stolen bike locked up on a street. He calls the police to report the sighting and requests permission to break the lock so he can claim it.
As this scene unfolds, a prostitute silently slinks into the car of a client. This is obviously a rough neighborhood.
Very soon, an Eritrean named Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb), a worker in a nearby meat processing factory, appears and, much to Omer’s puzzlement and annoyance, claims the bike. An argument breaks out, with Yunes’ boss vouching for his honesty.
It’s hard to tell who’s actually telling the truth, but both men seem sincere and convincing. Two policemen arrive on the scene to adjudicate the dispute, but neither Omer nor Yunes can prove they’re the respective owners of the bicycle.
Inevitably, one of the police officers asks to see Yunes’ visa. At this juncture, complications arise and Omer is overcome by a wave of guilt.
We still do not know the identity of the rightful owner. But the incident exposes Yunes to unwanted scrutiny and underscores the vulnerability of African migrants in Israel.
White Eye, no doubt influenced by Vittorio De Sica’s classic, Bicycle Thieves, is a gritty and plausible spellbinder.