An Israeli Woman's Search for Peace

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

In "Another Road Home," the Israeli author Amos Elon, a frequent critic of his country's policies toward Palestinians, posits that it's impossible for Arabs and Jews to commune over something as simple as dinner or a movie. "It's too painful," he says, referring to the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict.

This movie, directed by Elon's daughter Danae, gives the lie to his pessimism. Indeed, if ever there was a movie that should be seen by Palestinians and Jews together, it's "Another Road Home," a deeply personal portrait of how politics have informed -- and often deformed -- the purest human relationships. In the film, Danae seeks to answer her own questions about Musa Obeidallah, a Palestinian man who, shortly after the Six-Day War of 1967, knocked on her parents' door and was immediately hired as her caretaker. (With 11 children of his own, he was obviously qualified.) Not having seen him for years, Danae reconnects with Musa's grown sons, many of whom have settled in Paterson, N.J., and with them begins the difficult process of coming to terms with their shared history.

Personal documentary may be the trickiest nonfiction form, prone as it is to solipsism and self-indulgence, and using one's family as a prism to examine the complexities of Middle East politics is fraught with danger at every turn. That degree of difficulty makes "Another Road Home" all the more remarkable, as Danae threads the needle between first-person confession and detached observation to create a film that, while unflinchingly addressing the realities of the Arab-Israeli dispute, also transcends politics to become a film about finding hope in shared humanity.

As much as "Another Road Home" is a portrait of one family, it also vividly conveys life in both the Palestinian and Jewish diaspora, as Musa's family and Danae's parents -- all of them sensitive, cultured and intellectually honest -- meditate on what has become the highly charged concept of "home" for both tribes. Set against the backdrop of post-9/11 New York, the suffering and dislocation of both sides are even more keenly felt; when Danae films the frozen waterfalls in Paterson, they seem to symbolize a conflict locked into intractable anguish.

Still, for the wrenching guilt and confusion propelling Danae's enterprise, the clouds part when Musa himself finally makes an appearance. Forget Batman and the other superheroes of summer: The bravest, most self-sacrificing and morally acute leading man on screen this year is surely Musa, who at 76 has reared an astonishingly handsome and accomplished family, and who betrays no bitterness toward the obstacles put in his way.

"Another Road Home" is full of heart-rending moments, in which people of good faith search for answers to what, in the end, remain painfully irreconcilable questions. And to her credit, Danae resists the temptation to add explanatory stock footage and archival stills, instead keeping the focus on the two families and their most profoundly personal and thus most vexing contradictions. By far the most moving sequence comes when Danae tries to explain to Musa how conflicted she feels about the memory of his carefully, even lovingly, ironing her Israeli Army uniform. He seems untroubled by what are clearly disturbing ironies for Danae. "Don't worry," he soothingly reassures her. "Take it off." He may literally be talking about the psychic burden of the liberal Israeli conscience, but the viewers may be forgiven for speculating on the exhortation's deeper metaphoric meaning.

Another Road Home (79 minutes, at the Avalon) is unrated.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company