“KAZABLAN”– A Hebrew “West Side Story”


A Hebrew “West Side Story”

Amos Lassen

“Kazablan” has often been called the Israeli “West Side Story” as the two movies share many similarities. The most notable of these is that they were both blockbusters when released. “Kazablan” is not a new movie, in fact it won two Golden Globe awards in 1973. I just received my own copy of it and as I sat and watched it, I found it to be amazing and has stood the test of time.

It is the screen adaptation of a popular Israeli play about an army veteran who becomes a gang leader in the port city of Jaffa (very close to Tel Aviv and in fact now incorporated as part of Tel Aviv). Kazah, our hero, masks his feelings of bitterness with bravado. In Israel, those like Kazah, of North African heritage, were once discriminated against by Israelis who emigrated from Eastern Europe. Kazah is in love with Rachel, a young woman who lives with her mother and father and the real problem is that the neighbors consider the relationship to be scandalous, It infuriates Yanush who feels he has the right to marry Rachel because they are both of Ashkenazi stock (Eastern European). Kazah, on the other hand, is a Sephardic Jew from Morocco. But the relationship of the two is not the only problem of the denizens of Jaffa. The city wants to demolish several of the homes so everyone gets together and pools resources to save the house. The money was stolen and Kazah is sent to jail as he is the suspected thief and searches for a way to clear himself of the crime.

The movie is a reflection of 1970’s style in Israel and this is most reflected by their dress as well as the fact that this was the beginning of Israel’s movie production. I have heard it said that the movie looks amateurish at best. That, however, does not mean it is not enjoyable. There are catchy songs and dance routines that catch the eyes. It is a mood film which is laden with atmosphere and this is how it is to be regarded and watched. Many ask what the film is really about.  Does it deal with coming-of age after military service or is it a film that deals with ethnic profiling and therefore trying to make a statement against prejudice? I say it is just a film to watch and enjoy. It is relaxing, it is fun and it is lively.

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