“MAGIC MEN”— Father and Son

“Magic Men”

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Avraham (Makram Khoury), an elderly Greek Holocaust survivor and an estranged Israeli magician, and his Hassidic rapper son, Yehuda (Zohar Strauss) embark on a journey with absurd encounters that ultimately leads them to a final confrontation of father and son. Avraham is jaded and has renounced his religion and he resents his son who is a pious Hassidic rapper. Avraham decides to return to his native Greece to find the man who offered shelter and taught him magic during World War II and he feels compelled to bring Yehuda as his guardian. Arriving in Greece against the backdrop of its recent financial crisis, father and son are forced to confront prickly relationship with the help of a kindhearted prostitute, Maria (Ariane Labed). In reality, this is a not just a road trip— it is also a journey for absolution and reconciliation.

There are enchanting moments of humor and affection and beautiful cinematography as well as excellent performances. (Makram Khoury won the equivalent of the Israeli Academy Award for his performance). The film was directed by the team of Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor who also wrote the screenplay with Sharon Maymon. The film brings together the memory of the Holocaust, a journey in search of family origins, a religious conversion, Greece, rap music, magic, a bit of Zorba and a Greek whore with a heart of gold. “Magic Men” strives to win us over, using a range of formulas and giving them to us in a visually and musically attractive package.

Yehuda is a former rapper who chose to embrace a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish lifestyle but has not quite given up his music. Since his return to religion, he and his father have been estranged. Yehuda’s religious conversion catalyzes a break with the father and becomes a symbol of generational rebellion. Unfortunately, the way that this is handled here is superficial and the scenes with father and son are melodramatic and lack depth. Their eventual reconciliation is expected from early on and it is presented shallowly and with too much sentiment.

Avraham’s visit to Greece was to look for the boy who saved him from the Nazis 60 years earlier and taught him to do magic. Through this search, we meet Maria the contented prostitute who gives the film an attractive female presence. The search for the boy causes the plot to become a chain of scenes that are conspicuously trying to please and move the audience. Nonetheless we are moved by the gorgeous Greek landscape.

Makram Khoury’s performance is restrained and precise and it is what really saves the film from its own problematic writing. Zohar Strauss is believable as the son, but his performance is limited by weakness in character development. The basic subject has been handled in other features as well as documentaries.

Directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor found that their own grandfathers had gone on a similar journey back to Poland. The Greek setting adds a novel twist, and the film has an opportunity to glance at the recent financial crisis in Greece while the hero revisits his past.

The creation of the three main characters is the best thing about the film. Avraham can be intolerant and disdainful of others, but there is something appealing about his independence and adventurous spirit. He is 78 years old and wants to travel alone, but his family forces him to tolerate the company of his son, Yehuda. Avraham is contemptuous of his son’s piety, and although this is never explained, we can’t help but assume that his experiences during the Second World War shattered his faith once and for all. The orthodox Yehuda doesn’t conform to stereotype. He’s not quite as rigid as when we first see him and his insecurities make him endearing.