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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 29, 2007
3:30 p.m. Souvenirs
Shahar Cohen, Halil Efrat (Israel, 2006)

(Suvenirim). Shahar Cohen's father had a proposal for his unmarried, unemployed filmmaker son with no prospects: Make a film about the legendary Jewish Brigade of World War II. Sleiman Cohen served with the brigade throughout Europe, and at a reunion of brigade veterans his son is intrigued by jokes that his Yemeni father may have left behind flesh-and-blood "souvenirs" with two Dutch girls in postwar Amsterdam. Crammed together in a tiny, retooled Autobianchi Junior, father and son follow Sleiman's wartime route from the Italian countryside all the way to the Netherlands. While Shahar had been raised by his father, the elder Cohen was a strict, private man and they were never close. On the road, their complex relationship develops as the film's compelling focus. By turns comic and touching, the pair bickers, laughs, and engages in girl watching, showing us what it means to become what Sleiman terms "close like soldiers." Simultaneously, Shahar pursues the possibility of having siblings. His search uncovers the many faces of children left behind in wartime and leads to a surprising payoff. Scenes in which Sleiman returns to former battle sites are skillfully interspersed with archival footage. Although Shahar hastened his own military discharge, he still cherishes the idea that his father was a war hero and a great lover. Along the way, a succession of revelations tells a different story, and Shahar wonders, "Who am I to write the role of the father for Sleiman?" This touching road film explores the tug between myth, reality, memory, and truth.

—Kathleen Denny

• Written by Cohen. Photographed by Tomer Shani. (75 mins)