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Ido Port & Alfred Molina in THE LITTLE TRAITOR (Photo: Yoni Hamenachem)

Written & Directed by
Lynn Roth, based on the novel Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz
Produced by
Roth & Eitan Evan
Released by Westchester Films
In English and Hebrew with English subtitles
Israel/USA. 89 min. Not Rated
Alfred Molina, Ido Port, Rami Heuberger, Gilya Stern & Theodore Bikel 

The Little Traitor is a poignant, child’s view of the crucial summer of 1947, just before the sun set on the British Empire in Jerusalem and everything changed. Childhood perceptions of an endless summer, as timeless as a Mark Twain story, intertwine with reality in a Palestine where worried Jews—Zionist pioneers, Holocaust survivors, refugees, militant guerrillas, religious scholars, and Communists—hold their breath.

Twelve-year-old Proffy (the adorable Ido Port) and his two friends play out revenge fantasies, focusing their animosity on the occupying British army, but all the hot, tired Brits really want to do is go home already. (Proffy is nicknamed for studying his father’s military books like a little professor.) When Proffy’s war games keep him out past curfew, he gets caught by Sergeant Dunlop (perfectly cast Alfred Molina), who surprises the boy by being more avuncular than scary. Proffy’s understanding of the threatening adult world through stereotypes turns upside down when Sgt. Dunlop turns out to be a lonely, Bible-quoting, evangelical Christian fascinated by the Holy Land. The sergeant offers Proffy a deal, English conversation in exchange for learning modern Hebrew.

As Proffy’s fearful family, friends and community, a colorful neighborhood full of very distinctive characters, tensely wait for the United Nations’ vote to establish the state of Israel, gossip blows up small incidents into potential triggers for riots, oppression, or war. (Statehood will come in November, as seen in newsreel footage.) Misunderstandings escalate from childish graffiti targeting Proffy to a kangaroo court presided over by Theodore Bikel, in a cameo role, as a local leader of the paramilitary Haganah.

With a sentimental epilogue, the film does not quite catch the ruefulness of author Amos Oz’s adult narration, which looks back to a time when the naïveté of youth matched the birth of a nation. After making the rounds of Jewish film festivals over the past couple of years, writer/director Lynn Roth’s lovely looking film, only her second in 10 years, sensitively brings to life a critical time in recent history. Nora Lee Mandel
November 7, 2009



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