Set in Jerusalem in the early 1980s, Campfire follows widow Rachel Gerlik (Michaela Eshet) and her two teenage daughters as they prepare to move into one of the first West Bank settlements. While there are obviously religious and ideological interests at work, all Rachel really desires is to feel part of a community.
Likewise, the film is only incidentally political, with most screen time devoted to the little romances the three women experience. The mother is being courted by wealthy globetrotting cantor Moshe (Yehoram Gaon), but she’s fonder of lonely bus driver Yossi (wonderfully warm Moshe Ivgy). Rebellious older daughter Esti (Maya Maron) is going steady with a soldier, but they’re having a hard time finding privacy. As for 15-year-old Tami (Hani Furstenberg, who looks like a Jewish Alexis Bledel), she’s just coming of age, innocently dancing in the living room, kissing the mirror and discovering boys.
All three actresses are adorable and the movie itself is very pleasant, yet even through the happy times, there’s an ominous feeling cutting through. This is Israel; things can’t end well, right? Trouble does come knocking, but not from where one expects.
Campfire was written and directed by Joseph Cedar, who grew up in a Zionist family that supported the Settlement Movement. Some have accused him of trying to indict his origins, but the film seemed balanced enough to me, with good and bad on every side. The half-baked, curiously optimistic ending is frustrating, but otherwise this is a moving, beautifully acted picture.