BREAKING THE BREAD FILM REVIEW
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com and BigAppleReviews.net, linked to Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Beth Elise Hawk
Screenwriter: Beth Elise Hawk
Actors: Dr Nof Atanmna-Ismaeel, Shlomi Meir, Ali Khattib, Oussama Dalal, Han Ferron, Salah Cordi, Tomer Abergel, Shoshi Karaman, Fadi Karaman
Screening at: Critics’ link, NYC, 01/13/22
Opening: February 4, 2022
If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Heinz ketchup, you know the company prides itself on offering 57 varieties of food. The United States, on the other hand, has perhaps 200 varieties of people, while Israel, a much smaller country, has a mixture of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians and Jews from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, United States, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. This is just to name a few. “Breaking Bread” is Beth Elise Hawk’s documentary about how food can bring together the distinct people who live in Israel proper. Hawk, in its freshman production, allows it to focus on microbiologist Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, named by Israel a master chef, who serves as a narrator, showing groups of people from different backgrounds preparing, commenting on and eating the food. She believes people can find out how similar they are to each other through the one thing everyone does: eat. Although only half of Israel’s Jews are Ashkenazim and Mizrahi, hailing from European countries, Dr. Nof deals almost exclusively with foods from people in the Levant: mainly falafel, lamb, tomato salad and of cucumbers, pita bread, hummus and tehina.
The main characters, a mix of Jews and Muslim Arabs, including a half-Christian, half-Jewish compatriot, discuss whether the Levantine foods served in Israel (from Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon) can be called Israelis, or if it is safer to consider them Arabs. While even Ashkenazi Jews go for falafels and such, my vote is to call them Arabs. Unfortunately, there is no Israeli food, and many Israeli Jews have barely heard of Matzoh bagels and dumpling soup, nor do they eat them.
The film draws its prologue from a quote by Anthony Bourdain, “Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it is a start.”
Some Arabs living in Israel proper, that is, without Gaza or the West Bank, would only call Nof an Arab by name, as she was raised in an Arab village but attended a Jewish elementary school. The most unusual. She is fluent in English, while the Muslims she introduces know Hebrew well. It’s unusual; most Arabs living within Israel’s borders refuse to consider themselves Israelis but instead identify as Palestinians.
Coming out of Haifa, a diverse city that is the third largest in the country, a man of Syrian descent from Akko makes his contribution to the A-Sham food festival in Haifa. Another shows and discusses what Ashkenazi Jews would consider kreplach, in this case ground lamb folded into batter like a Chinese wonton. Arab and Jewish leaders speak freely to each other, which may give some the impression that Arabs living in Israel proper shun Palestinian identity and converse well mostly in Hebrew. Could it be that many Arabs hope to continue living under a Jewish government, given that Israeli Jews have built up such an armed force that terrorists like ISIS and Al Aqueda would not dare to launch a frontal attack? Who knows how immune these Israeli Arabs would be to the twisted ideology of terrorists under an Arab government?
Big city Americans would likely be familiar with most or all of the colorful dishes on display, a tantalizing assortment that would find them the next day in local ethnic restaurants and food emporiums. You come out of that picture realizing that maybe ten percent of the Arabs living in Israel would be politically hostile to the government, when in fact most of the Muslim population there, although eligible like any other who else to claim Israeli citizenship and receive passports refuses to do so. In Ofer ben Yehuda’s colorful photography (it’s not easy to photograph food to bring out its flavor), we witness the sentiments of chefs who seem apolitical, even bending over backwards in loyalty to a Jewish government.
In English, Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles.
86 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Interim – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+