Just when you thought no one would ever make sense of the Mideast crisis, along comes a movie that explains it all — and tenderly. Ben (Adrian Pasdar) and Laila (Cecilia Peck) have been in love ever since they were next-door neighbors as children. Now, after years of separation, they’ve been thrust together by fate. It’s 1973, and they’re both on the West Bank. He’s a handsome Israeli soldier, she’s a beautiful Arab schoolteacher. Can their love survive?
Torn Apart, as you’ve probably gathered, is an Arab-Israeli Romeo and Juliet, a West Bank Story. On its own terms, the movie is better thanyou’d expect. Peck (Gregory’s daughter) and Pasdar have a genuine chemistry, at once delicate and erotic. Yet the film’s terms are absurd.
The movie is savvy enough to see that what makes Ben and Laila’s love untenable isn’t just racism or family pressure but a basic point of security: In a state of war, the risk is too great — it could mean many people’s lives. So why, knowing this, do the filmmakers chart the romance with breathless adolescent mooniness? It’s as if they were pleading with world events, saying, ”Look! If the Israelis and Arabs would only come to terms, these two beautiful young people could be in love!” Well, yes, and all God’s children could lift up their hearts and sing. Torn Apart means well, but it’s the romantic-tragedy equivalent of sticking flowers in gun barrels.