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Review: Arab boy comes of age in ‘Borrowed Identity’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“A Borrowed Identity” sure covers a lot of ground for a coming-of-age story.

Much of this has to do with its setting: Israel. And the person coming of age: Eyad, an Arab growing up in a country where his heritage makes him a second-class citizen.

Most of the film takes place in the early ’90s, when Eyad (the soulful Tawfeek Barhom) is accepted into a prestigious high school in Jerusalem, making him the rare, if not only, Arab in attendance. His Hebrew is awkward, his style of dress is out of place, he’s subject to ridicule and bullying.

But Eyad perseveres and makes friends, most notably with the bubbly Naomi (the strikingly natural Daniel Kitsis). Eyad also bonds with a student outside the school, Jonathan (Michael Moshonov), who has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair.

Teen things happen, but always under the umbrella of Arab-Israeli tension. When Eyad, Naomi and Jonathan go to a rock club, the graphic song lyrics are about the oppression of Palestinians. When Eyad and Naomi become a couple, they have to keep their attraction hidden. When Eyad goes to work at a restaurant, he discovers the more profitable job of waiting tables closed to him; as an Arab, he has to work behind closed doors in the kitchen.

Then again, the only thing holding Eyad back is his name; there’s no real way to tell if he’s an Arab or a Jew. In fact, he and Jonathan could be brothers. So …

Directed by Eran Riklis (“The Lemon Tree”) and written by Sayed Kashua, “A Borrowed Identity” is a fine blend of the universal — teen love, rebellion, tragedy — and riveting specificity, while also working as sharp social critique.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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‘A Borrowed Identity’

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 104 minutes