As the co-star of "Another Road Home," Israeli filmmaker Danae Elon is at times paralyzed with inarticulateness. She's flummoxed. Far from being a flaw, this seems to be the only possible response to a situation that crisscrosses endless fault lines of politics, religion, war and enmity.
In 1967, when she was 1, Elon's parents moved to East Jerusalem in the wake of the Six-Day War. Left-wing humanists her father, Amos Elon, is a well-known historian and social critic they hired a middle-aged Palestinian named Musa as their daughter's caregiver. Danae grew up with this man and in many ways was closer to him than to her parents.
Now she's a Manhattan-based filmmaker in her late 30s and has no idea what has happened to Musa. Her mother lost contact with him during the second intifada; all Danae knows is that he sent his eight sons to live in the United States and that some of them may still live near Paterson, N.J.
The first half of this slim, heartbreaking film, then, is a mystery story, as Elon canvasses Paterson's Arab-American community for leads and time and again comes up against her own entitled ignorance.
She searches for Abdullahs in the phone book before learning that Musa's last name is spelled Obeidallah. She learns his first name is actually Mahmoud; because Israelis had trouble pronouncing it correctly, her parents called him Musa. She meets his sons, whom she vaguely remembers playing with in her youth; they're now prosperous middle-class American professionals with as much regret and uncertainty as Elon about what they've left behind. Certainly they know they might be in jail or dead if they had stayed.
The relationship between Danae and Naser Obeidallah, the son closest to her in age, becomes the movie's emotional fulcrum. When we meet him he's a successful pharmacist-retailer opening his own store, but in conversations with Elon he reverts to the timid boy he once was. He recalls being in her house, seeing the schoolbooks and band instruments he never had, and he asks if she ever considered what his life might have been like. The filmmaker answers as honestly as she can, and both of them sit abashed in the silence that follows.
But at least she answers. Elon's parents are educated, socially committed Israelis Amos has been criticizing his government's treatment of Arabs for years but when their daughter brings them to Paterson to meet the Obeidallahs, they worry whether they'll be greeted by robe-wearing terrorists. "Another Road Home" is about the damage wrought by oppression, and how it takes generations to wash free, if in fact it ever does. There are hard metaphors here for those of us living in a country driven insane by skin color.
Eventually the elder Obeidallah appears on the scene, and he is smaller and more human than Danae Elon's memory of him. Despite his clear affection, he was a hired man, and this is the awful truth behind so many privileged children's search for their nannies. But he loves her, and he loves his sons even more, even as he recognizes that they've grown beyond him.
To the younger Obeidallahs, their father represents "home," a notion with which they're uncomfortably abstract. Ismail, the oldest son, tells of losing his Israeli residency when he went to college in the United States, but he's still proud to own a house in a country he no longer belongs to.
That this is a barely tenable position becomes clear when Elon accompanies Mahmoud back to Israel late in the film and must enter the country at a special military checkpoint; returning home alone, she can fly out when and where she chooses. Suddenly the storm clouds that have hovered in the distance are directly overhead.
By contrast, the Elons have become rootless. Danae is a Manhattanite, while her parents live in Italy, far from the violence and complicity of Israel. Her mother says she has forgotten what "home" means. Amos no longer believes in the concept. His daughter begs to differ. With pained gentleness, her film insists we make our homelands within us and take them wherever we go.
"Another Road Home" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for its discussion of racial and ethnic issues and other adult themes. Running time: 79 minutes.