Yellow Asphalt

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Yellow Asphalt

There may be a less subtle way of showing the modern world colliding with the old world, but the central incident in "Black Spot," the first of three trite vignettes that comprise writer-director Danny Verete's Yellow Asphalt, makes it hard to fathom what that would be. Two Israelis (Moshe Ivgi and Zevik Raz), barreling down the road in a gleaming semi, smash into a little Bedouin boy with a donkey, sparking a tense encounter between hostile cultures. Here and throughout the subsequent stories, the two camps are presented as stereotypes that are rarely questioned: The Israelis (rich, self-absorbed, obsessed with bean-counting and material things) and the Bedouins (primitive, tribal, patriarchal, interested in honor above all other considerations) share little common humanity. Though it's tempting to praise Verete for having the courage to show the worst of both worlds, only a propagandist could get away with being so reductive; an artist should be held to a higher standard. After "Black Spot," the segments get progressively longer and better, so perhaps Verete just needed more time to expand and develop his rudimentary stories and characterizations. In the second short, "Here Is Not There," the German wife (Tatjana Blacher) of a Bedouin man (Abed Zuabi) wants to divorce her husband and flee to an easier life with their two children, but an all-male tribal council refuses to grant her request. Tossing her veil to the wind, she and the kids steal off in the middle of the night, desperate to reach the main road across miles of arid plains. With her husband in hot pursuit—tracking them with the efficiency and speed of Frankenstein in an old monster movie—she flashes back to more promising times when the two were young lovers on equal footing. From that determinedly bleak episode, Verete concludes with the relative nuance of the hour-long "Red Roofs," which introduces the first three-dimensional character in Sami Samir, a Bedouin farmhand with tragically confused loyalties. For two years, Samir has looked the other way while his Jewish boss (Motti Katz) carries on an adulterous affair with his housekeeper (Raida Adno), a member of Samir's tribe. When the two are finally caught, tradition dictates a grave set of consequences, and the farmhand, who values his paycheck and his friendship with both parties, gets stuck in an impossible position. Once again, the stereotypes are often broad and offensive: In one scene, the Jewish boss is shown crunching numbers on a calculator as his home is surrounded by Bedouin vigilantes. At least Samir's character is only pressed by opposing cultures and not determined by them, but Verete still makes him pay for his transgression. Whatever his ultimate intent, the grim lesson implied by the three stories in Yellow Asphalt is to never stray from the tribe, no matter how corrupt or unjust its values.

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