By Daniel Rester
A few days ago I had the opportunity to attend part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival. One of the events I went to was a screening of a film called David. It may be a while out before David gets any kind of limited or wide release, but I believe the film is worth seeing if it makes it one’s way while it goes through the festival circuits.
David tells the story of an eleven-year-old Arab boy named Daud, who lives in a Muslim community in Brooklyn with his family—and where his father is the Imam at the local mosque. One day, Daud is spending time in a park when he realizes a group of boys leave a book behind on a bench. In trying to return the book, Daud is mistaken as a Jewish student in an Orthodox school. This leads him to take on the fake identity of David. As David, Daud comes to learn new things from the school and becomes close to a group of students. Among the students is a boy named Yoav, who Daud builds a strong friendship with while exploring some new aspects of his youth.
David builds on the familiar “youth story” territory found in many American films by exploring aspects of the Jewish and Muslim communities (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen many films that study the youth in both of these types of communities in America). Interweaving the varied community ideas helps to give depth to the inner-conflict of Daud, as the character himself does not speak his mind very often. Instead, the viewer often sees Daud calmly maintaining his relationships with members of each community, and sometimes dealing with struggles brought on by teenagers of other cultural backgrounds as well. Such mixings of cultural thoughts and the reactions by the youth involved really enrich David as a whole.
Writer-producer-director Joel Fendelman (who I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing) does a fine job of balancing such themes of culture and youthful outreach, while simultaneously exploring friendship and family matters that mix into the two. Though many of his characters don’t have a long enough time to fully shine (the film only runs about 80 minutes), most of them are believable and engaging (this is especially true of Daud and his father). Also, Fendelman’s dialogue never feels fake or “Hollywood-ish,” giving more authenticity to the relationships he explores. The music (with beautiful mixtures of piano and string instruments) and cinematography are also effective in aiding in the display of Fendelman’s story, but never once overpower it – allowing the film to really feel human throughout.
Though Fendelman’s crafting is sure-handed and impressive, David really belongs to newcomer Muatasem Mishal, who plays the title character. Mishal gives a quietly powerful, nuanced performance that rings true every step of the way. His adolescent aspects in his character (reserved and subtle) are perfectly paired alongside that of Yoav’s, with Yoav being the type of pre-teen that runs on adventure and energy. Binyomin Shtaynberger, as Yoav, also gives a convincing performance, as he goes beyond the character’s obnoxious surface and really lets one see into him by the end of the film. Each character is given weight by the presence of the other, with Mishal and Shtaynberger sharing perfect chemistry whenever on the screen together. The rest of the supporting cast is suitable as well, with an especially appealing Maz Jobrani as Daud’s resolute father.
David does have some questionable moments here and there (such as how the school never realizes Daud isn’t actually a student on the roster), and it could have gone on a little longer in order to let some of its supporting characters deliver a bit more. That said, the film is still genuine and entertaining as a whole. Mr. Fendelman looks to be a promising filmmaker, as David sets him off on a great start.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.