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A Borrowed Identity

Directed by: Eran Riklis
104 Minutes, 2014, Drama; Israel Film Center Festival; Romance

Based on the books of Sayed Kashua. Eyad, who grew up in an Arab town in Israel, is given the chance to go to a prestigious Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem. He desperately tries to fit in with his schoolmates and is isolated until Jewish classmate Naomi befriends him. Eyad’s other lifeline is Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), whom Eyad is assigned to help with schoolwork. Both are “misfits”: one in a wheelchair, the other an Arab. Through love, friendship, tradition, and conflict, Eyad struggles to find his identity.

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Director: Eran Riklis

Producer: Karen Belz

Producer: Sören Bode

Producer: Bettina Brokemper

Producer: Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre

Producer: Michael Eckelt

Producer: Chilik Michaeli

Producer: Simon Ofenloch

Producer: Anette Unger

Producer: Christian Vennefrohne

Writer: Sayed Kashua

Cinematographer: Michael Wiesweg

Editor: Richard Marizy

Art director: Nir Alba


Eran Riklis in collaboration with gifted writer Sayed Kashua has brought to the screen a thoughtful and riveting film based on Kashua’s ‘Dancing Arabs’. Released in North America as ‘A Borrowed Identity’, it unfortunately is shown only in select art houses, to a limited audience. ‘Borrowed Identity’ has come on to the American scene at a time of racial and ethnic tension, which in the US context is a reflection of the strain in defining who and what a person is. Kashua’s script is informed in the ongoing debate in Israel for its Arab citizens of what its means to be an Israeli, at a time of rabid Jewish nationalism: at a time when the degenerative Zionist elite dreams of expelling 20 percent of Israel’s population, i.e., Arabs of the right of citizenship. ‘A Borrowed Identity’, in a Hegelian trope, in a rude dialectic informs us that the only way Eyad, a gifted Arab Israeli, can find complete fulfillment in Israel is to become a Jew by assuming the identity of Jonathan, his doppelganger, who dies after a long bout of muscular dystrophy, with the complicity of the deceased Israeli’s mother. Riklis’ film should strike a chord in America in the light of the Rachel Dozeal brouhaha, whereby a white woman passes as black. The connection is problematic? And the climate in the US is hardly welcoming for understanding the plight of Arab citizens of Israel, who, as it turns out, are ‘les negres d’ Israel’. There is nothing to fault in the probing eye of Riklis’ camera. Yael Abecassis is as ever the embodiment of discernment as Jonathan’s mother, the young Tawfeek Barhom has a shrewd understanding of the film’s protagonist Eyad; he infuses his character with a delicate understanding of the transformation of what Hegel calls the alter ego and then becoming Jonathan. However the love angle is predictable, but creditable, and shows the limits of Israeli liberalism. Above all, the talents of Riklis and Kashua have produced a film worthy of prizes, which the hands of less talented artists would render ‘Dancing Arabs’ cartoon like if not soppy in sentimentality.