1981, Israel…Rachel (Michaela Eshet) is slowly realizing that after the death of her husband life has become more and more difficult not just for her but for her two daughters as well. Considering a fresh start and perhaps a better future for her girls Rachel decides that the best thing to do is to apply for the new settlement everyone is talking about which is to be built somewhere on the West Bank. Unfortunately a single woman with a rather shaky "image" within the local community is anything but the perfect candidate…as Rachel is told by the leader of the Zionist committee. On top of everything else Rachel's daughters can't seem to be able to stay out of trouble. During a traditional bonfire Tami (Hani Furstenburg) is nearly raped by a group of horny boys and warned not to tell anyone about it while Esti (Maya Mayron) is secretly making out with a soldier who as it seems knows his way around Rachel's house quite well.
Directed by New York-born Joseph Cedar and winner of almost every imaginable Israeli award in 2004 Campfire left me with some mixed emotions ranging from disgust to pure elation. Structured more as a character study and less as a modern day exploration of Israeli social life this is a film that I am quite certain will gather some passionate responses at home (I will explain why) and most certainly will raise some critical eyebrows abroad (I will also explain why).
I entered Campfire not knowing anything about the history of the project or its director and certainly by the end of the movie there were some strong emotions raging in me. From the opening credits where I was introduced to the character of Rachel, a woman with an unfortunate past and a disastrous present, I knew that this will be a film that will ask some serious questions. As the story progressed I found myself strangely attracted to Rachel and her struggle to do "the right thing". But the more she attempted to put her live in order the more everything around her began to look like a puzzle with many, many missing pieces.
By the time Rachel encountered the leader of the Zionist settlement committee I was truly immersed in Campfire. It felt strange looking at this single woman making everything possible to please a man and his supporters who obviously cared very little about her future…and he did not shy away from using laughable "community" standards to impose his view on how another human being should lead a decent life. I was stunned. I am not familiar with the manner religious communities in Israel are structured and more importantly how candidates are being selected for any of the available spots around the notorious settlements on the West Bank but seeing this helpless woman struggle to gain the needed "approval" made my heart hurt.
Campfire is a film about a society plagued by double standards which as the film shows easily transform the lives of many into a never-ending misery. The subtle social criticism which Joseph Cedar has managed to snuck into Campfire masked under the story of a woman attempting to find a man she can love make this Israeli production a worthy viewing experience. Campfire is also a very lonely film, one that shows how difficult it is for single Israeli women to make any sort of progress within the communities they live in especially when so much can so easily be dismissed with empty political slogans.
A great story that goes to the core of the prevalent for Jewish religious settlements exclusivism Campfire certainly is an honest film. Or so it seems to me, aside from Keren Yedaya's Or (My Treasure) (2004) this is only the second Israeli film I have seen in recent years that manages so successfully to recreate the uneasy political and social climate in Israel. And though Campfire ends on a somewhat positive note the questions it leaves for the viewer to ponder are certainly quite disturbing.
Campfire is the winner of five Israeli Film Academy Awards, including Best Director (Joseph Cedar), and Best Film as well as the Fipresci Award at the Chicago International Film Festival (2004). Campfire is also the official Israeli Oscar entry.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Campfire looks quite good. Aside from the fact that this appears to be a PAL sourced print colors look rather well and contrast is handled adequately. Minor "ghosting" is indeed an issue with this disc but if seen on a regular tube one could somewhat disregard it. Edge enhancement on the other hand could have been handled a little bit better as especially during day-light scenes it becomes quite obvious. Last but not least I see a tiny degree of mosquito noise (more noticeable during the opening couple of scenes).
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented in its original Hebrew 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack with optional yellow English subtitles the audio is handled quite well. There were no distracting pop-ups or sound "scratches" that would detract from your viewing experience. All in all an adequate presentation.
As it has become a tradition for Film Movement we get a nice short film by Slovakian director Michal Struss titled In The Box about a wooden puppet who captured in a box who slowly realizes that freedom could be quite deceiving. See the ending…quite a charming little feature. Aside the only other extra material we get is Biographies and a few trailers for other Film Movement releases.
I have a slight suspicion that the emotions Campfire spurred in me are quite different from what other viewers who have seen the film might have experienced. I was totally disgusted seeing how Rachel was manipulated (regardless of the reasons the film offers) even though she managed to remain positive. Campfire was indeed quite an experience which to be honest I would not want to revisit any time soon. This is a powerful film but as far as I am concerned for all the wrong reasons…I just hope that all the Rachels out there manage to remain as strong as the main protagonist in this film was. RECOMMENDED.