Photo Courtesy of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

2023 Toronto Jewish Film Festival: “Concerned Citizen” Review

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions. 

Concerned Citizen is a jarring, important look at the prejudices that exist within modern Israeli society. The message presented in this movie is a topical one as Israeli society continues to grow more diverse. There’s an unflinching tone that permeates the satire for an effective commentary on a real-world issue. While not everything comes together, the story asks important questions without presuming to have all the answers. 

The movie tells the story of a police murder of an Eritrean immigrant to Israel. The man who called the police witnessed it all from his apartment. Ben (Shlomi Bertonov) must wrestle with the consequences of his actions and must test his seemingly progressive social values. As a whole, the story is a dark, poignant commentary on the consequences of gentrification.

Immediately, it’s clear that this story is a commentary on the challenges modern Israeli society faces. By confining the story to such a small physical space, there’s more room to feel all of the emotions and explore the questions being asked. The confined spaces act as a canvas onto which Ben can project his own biases and issues. 

Concerned Citizen’s protagonist is made unlikable without being cartoonishly evil. While assessment of the accuracy of this character’s authenticity should be left to the LGBTQ+ Israeli community, his narrative is an effective one. The fact that this character embodies nominally progressive values is a challenge to viewers. Ben as a character is an invitation to examine one’s own views and to ask questions about how authentic they are and how far they go. 

The relationship between Ben and his partner Raz (Ariel Wolf) is an interesting one. If there’s anywhere where this story falls short, it’s in not spending more time examining the nuances of this relationship. How do they see their collective responsibility as an Israeli couple living alongside refugees? Have they ever examined what it means to drive an entire community from their homes? 

This movie is an invitation to the entire Jewish community to consider how we can fulfil the mitzvah of welcoming the stranger. This doesn’t always involve grand gestures. As this story illustrates, welcoming the stranger happens in the quiet moments when no one else is watching. It also involves welcoming the stranger we ourselves may not particularly like. This story embodies the universal truth that all lives will only matter when Black Lives Matter. 

Finally, the movie never shies away from showing the immense human cost racism and prejudice lead to. This is the embodiment of the Jewish teaching that whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world. It is nothing less than infuriating to watch Ben exist in a world with no outward consequences. However, this comes across as incredibly authentic. An entire family and community will never be the same, and Ben is allowed to continue to live a life where his largest problem is sorting out the intricacies real estate. 

Concerned Citizen has an important and topical message for viewers to consider. There are consequences to an unwelcoming society, and the stakes could not be higher. This movie manages to distil the worst impulses of people. The story paints a picture of gentrification gone awry and the very real consequences that can be expected. It is a sobering reminder that we should all reflect on our own biases regardless of our own personal experiences. 

Concern Citizen was featured at the 2023 Toronto Jewish Film Festival

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