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article imageReview: 'Mussa' is a moving look at African refugees in Israel Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 24, 2015 in Entertainment
For a documentary with a mostly silent protagonist, 'Mussa' has a lot to say about Israeli society and the country's attitude towards African refugees.
Mussa, a 12-year-old boy whose parents came to Israel from Ethiopia, is a bit of a conundrum. Despite living in one of the poorest areas of Tel Aviv, every day he boards a bus and attends a private school with kids living far above his family's means. And ever since he arrived in Israel, he has refused to speak.
Ostensibly, at least at first, the film is about Mussa's day-to-day life and his place in a seemingly intolerant society, but it quickly reveals itself to be a commentary on Israel's policy towards refugees from Africa, especially Sudan.
Thousands of Sudanese refugees live in places like Tel Aviv and Arad, and face racism on a daily basis. Indeed, near the beginning of the film, Mussa's classmates talk openly about wanting immigrants out before they "take over" Israel. But the message becomes a lot clearer later when the camera stops on a rally of people announcing they will once and for all dispel all Sudanese refugees from the country.
In the foreground, the film follows Mussa and his friends, especially Tamir, his best friend. Mussa moves through milestones like a graduation ceremony, but refuses to talk to anyone (except via words written on paper and social media like WhatsApp and Facebook). Further, his parents are never at school activities.
Why Mussa won't talk is a mystery for a large part of the 65-minute runtime, but it gets somewhat of a resolution towards the end, an ending which manages to be both hopeful and heartbreaking as Mussa's family is torn apart by Israeli policy. A scene where Mussa's mother talks with a teacher about her immigration status is especially loaded with drama when the mother and teacher's communication breaks down, and Mussa refuses to translate.
Though the film is relatively short, director Anat Goren packs a lot into it, and captures many candid moments with Mussa, his family, and his many friends. Lots of tears are shed in the movie, and may spill from the viewer, too.
Mussa is now playing as part of the 2015 Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. To see more of Digital Journal's 2015 coverage, click here.
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