Do suicide bombers have consciences?
What do they think of the people they murder?
Do they crave a second chance — at life?
Dror Zahavi was intrigued by these questions, and explores them in his movie “For My Father,” which premieres in Pittsburgh on Monday, March 15, 8 p.m., in the McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University.
The film is part of this year’s Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival.
The background of someone who is willing to strap a bomb belt to his (or her) body proved fascinating to Zahavi, an Israeli filmmaker. Are they true believers in the Palestinian cause, or are there other motivations at work?
In “For my Father,” we meet Tarek, a young Arab and rising soccer star in his community. He has good looks, loving parents and a peaceful disposition.
So why are two Palestinian handlers dropping him off at a Tel Aviv market with orders to blow up as many people as he can? And why is he prepared to obey?
Tarek steps up to a produce stall, closes his eyes, prays and presses the detonator. Nothing happens — electrical malfunction.
Rather than let his handlers detonate him remotely with a cell phone they attached to him, he walks into another stall that sells electrical components and tries to buy a new switch. One can be ordered, but it will arrive after Shabbat. That means Tarek must spend the weekend among the people he was sent to murder.
He learns that these are people much like him, all harboring emotional pain and loss, some wondering whether life is worth living at all. They open up to Tarek, and he opens himself to them in return —without revealing his true identity.
Nowhere is this truer than the relationship that blooms between Tarek and Keren, a beautiful young woman who has cut herself off from her devoutly Orthodox family and is now being harassed by her former community. Tarek and Keren both guard secrets about their pasts, but we eventually learn why Keren is no longer Orthodox and why Tarek has turned himself into a human bomb.
A friendship — maybe even a romance — takes root. But the lingering question remains. Come Sunday, will Tarek go through with it? Will he kill himself, and others, once he gets his new switch?
In many ways, “For My Father” is a disturbing film, posing painful issues for both Palestinians and Israelis. Clearly, this film, which was nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards, is not for everyone, but you’ll leave the theater with more questions than answers.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)