Review: Concerned Citizen (Ezrah Mudag)

Written and directed by Idan Haguel, centers around Ben, a politically liberal, gay man who tries to improve his neighbourhood in the slums of south Tel Aviv by planting a tree on his street. Starring: Shlomi Bertonov, Ariel Wolf, Lena Fraifeld, Uriah Jablonowsky, Ilan Hazan and Yshelu Gebremkiel.

Unfortunately, there’s one glaring issue with this film which is almost impossible to ignore. Creating a story about privilege and lack of awareness of race issues, while literally only focusing on a privileged person and giving no attention to the victim of the story, entirely undermines its message. To be fair, it does also seem to get slightly confused about its message towards the end, turning away from learning, listening and being more aware to feeling as though its lead is attempting to embrace his prejudice instead. In its own way it does still have something to say about responsible choices and realising who you are as a person, but it’s a weak storyline. It dips its toes into gentrification and immigration but they’re very much on the side-lines and never truly get to take part. Things only get worse with an ending that feels overtly self-serving and a classic casual racist patting themselves on the back despite simply inserting themselves where they’re not needed.

Surprisingly for how much the story struggles, the visual is strong throughout, especially the cinematography from Guy Sahaf. There’s a great richness in its darker scenes, as well as a crispness to the overall aesthetic. It has a modern feel and taps into the atmosphere of today’s society well. On top of capturing the topic of gentrification better with its visual than it does thematically. It has a lot of potential for a more gripping drama and it’s just a shame that it doesn’t have the script to make the most of it.

The same goes for its performances, the ensemble is solid across the board and Shlomi Bertonov gives a portrayal that outshines the rest of the film. It has a power and strength to it, so while it may not be a character you’d want to revisit, he still has a great presence. He does a good job of presenting the conflict, resentment and prejudice his character holds. There’s a constant battle between what lines he will or won’t cross, and whether or not he cares if he does. In another circumstance, he has the skills to bring an intensely emotional performance, but there’s just no sympathy or relatability to bring this one home.

Concerned Citizen had a good initial idea, to explore how people make choices without thinking about the ramifications when we live in a society littered with racism. However, it then went in a direction which entirely conflicts with that idea and led it down a road which didn’t really have anything to offer. It’s strong visual work and Shlomi Bertonov gives a great performance but both are worthy of a better story to do them justice.

Verdict: ✯½ | 3/10

Available On Demand on PeccadilloPOD, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player

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