Israel’s “Treasure”

Annette Shantur

Israeli Film tends to draw from a smaller pool of talent than other genres – a natural result of the relatively small number of Hebrew speakers – so I was surprised not to recog­nize any faces in Or, My Treasure. This isn’t the only aspect in which director Keren Yedaya’s film distinguishes itself from its peers; a good portion of Israeli films center around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, others around Jewish identity and still others around social issues born of Israel’s young but rapidly developing mélange of cultures.

Or, My Treasure, though, focuses on a mother and daughter who one could imagine living anywhere in the world, speaking any lan­guage. Their struggles, while painful, are part of the fabric of society all over the world and the film is an unapologetic presentation of Ruthie’s life as a prostitute in Tel-Aviv with her high school aged daughter, Or.

Ruthie’s daughter, appropriately named Or, meaning “light,” tries desperately to free her mother from the downward spiral of prostitution while balancing school, a job washing dishes and is­sues related to growing up. Their obvious affection for each other seems to be the only thing holding their lives together, but is not enough to change the reality of their situation, and we are faced with the unpleasant truth that they, like many all over the world, simply do not have the tools or the emotional wherewithal to bring about real change.

Ruthie and Or’s existence is strained and anxious and the audience feels this all the more acutely through sparse dia­logue and long, uncomfortable shots that draw us into Or’s private thoughts and desires. A long, silent scene of Or in a taxi makes her isolation palpable, and we are left with the impression of Or’s despair as she pushes through her life from moment to moment.

The movie, more a snapshot of ordinary life than a com­pleted story, is unreservedly honest about Ruthie’s inability to change, and Or’s diminishing resilience as her desire for a peaceful life remains unmet.

Though we are confronted with an unsavory truth about life in Tel-Aviv, Or, My Treaure is a valuable piece in that it illustrates a part of Israel divorced from our usual asso­ciations of war or controversy among religious denomina­tions, leaving room for foreign viewers to empathize on a personal level with the humans portrayed, rather than observing from a removed standpoint through a political or historical lens.