Director: Joel Fendelman
Writers: Joel Fendelman and Patrick Daly
Stars: Muatasem Mishal, Binyomin Shtaynberger, Maz Jobrani, Dina Shihabi and Gamzi Ceylan
David at its core is a story about a boy wanting to be a boy. Daud (Muatasem Mishal)–David to us–is the devout son of the Imam for the neighborhood mosque. One day while at the park with his sister they notice a group of Jewish boys, and that one of them has left a copy of the Torah on the park bench. David goes with his sister to retrieve the book and give it back to the boys. Unfortunately they are not able to catch-up with the boys before they enter their orthodox Jewish School. David tries to enter the school but the door is locked and no one responds to his knocks. Nervous because his sister is nagging him to go home and they are in an unfamiliar neighborhood, David quickly grabs a Holy Book from his satchel and places it in the mailbox.
The following day during his religious studies he discovers he made a horrible mistake. The Holy Book he left in the mailbox was not the Torah but his Quran which belonged to his grandfather. Once his studies are complete he heads back to the Jewish School, removing his Islamic robe but keeping his skull-cap. At the entry he checks the mailbox, but his Quran is no longer there. Before he can think of what he can do a rabbi comes and reminds him that he will be late for class and lets him into the school. There he is brought to the class of the same Jewish kids as the day before. Over the course of the following days David finds his Quran, and more importantly finds friendship. But all good things must come to an end; what happens when David is revealed as Daud?
The story is well crafted. We are shown the commonality David and Youv (Binyomin Shtaynberger), his main Jewish friend, have in their shared “otherness” when compared to the secular kids in the park. The “otherness” in this case being their respective adherence to their faiths. We share David’s sense of wonder of being a stranger in a strange land; not only by his experiences in the Jewish class but also by his listening of Youv’s family’s stories. We also share David’s sense of belonging as Youv and his friends welcome him into the group.
The other part of the story being told is what it means to be a devout Muslim in a secular society. David’s father (Maz Jobrani) has to temper his strict beliefs from is childhood in Jordan with the realities of living in the United States. How does he handle the fact that his daughter has been accepted into Stanford and wants to eventually work and have her own career, and not be married-off & become a housewife? How does he deal with a son, Daud, who sometimes just wants to be a boy?
This film lives or dies by the strength of Muatasem Mishal’s performance of David, and he succeeds in spades. Muatasem is totally believable and engaging as David, never delivering a false note and more than up to the challenge of carrying the film. Binyomin Shtaynberger, unfortunately, is wooden, but does succeed at his pivotal final scene. The remaining cast falls into two categories: the older actors giving solid performances, and the younger actors showing their inexperience.
The director, Joel Fendelman, does a good job in pacing the film. It is deliberately slow, but always engaging. The scenes of David at the school looking for his Quran are tense and nerve-wracking. The scene where he is revealed as Daud is truly sad and emotional. Fendelman, as co-screenwriter with Patrick Daly, also ends the film on a believable and non-Hollywood ending.
Grade = A-