The Movie Waffler New to VOD - SHOSHANA | The Movie Waffler


In 1930s Palestine a British cop falls for a Jewish freedom fighter.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Irina Starshenbaum, Douglas Booth, Harry Melling, Ian Hart, Aury Alby

Shoshana poster

Prior to watching the Michael Winterbottom directed film that bears her name, I knew nothing about Shoshana Borochov, the Russian writer turned Israeli freedom fighter. Winterbottom and his co-writers Laurence Coriat and Paul Viragh haven't exactly delivered a biopic but rather a romantic thriller that focusses on Shoshana's relationship with a British cop. It has no more depth than one of those Miami Vice plotlines where Crockett would fall for the girlfriend of the mobster he's trying to take down.

Shoshana review

The movie begins in British mandated Palestine in 1938. A voiceover from Shoshana - played by the exciting new Russian actress Irina Starshenbaum, whom western audiences might know from Kirill Serebrenikov's Leto – fills in the details of how Palestine ended up in the hands of the British, sparking revolutions from both the Arab and Jewish populations. Working as a journalist in Tel Aviv, Shoshana begins dating Tom Wilkin (Douglas Booth), a high-ranking British cop tasked with disrupting the right wing Jewish terrorist group the Irgun. Shoshana is herself a member of the left-leaning Haganah, who while striving for the same outcome, oppose the political philosophy and violent warfare of the Irgun.

Shoshana and Tom's relationship becomes strained when Superintendent Geoffrey Morton (Harry Melling) is assigned to lead Tom's unit. Morton was known for his heavy-handed and legally dubious means of battling Arab opponents and when he employs similar tactics against the Jews, Shoshana finds herself withdrawing from Tom.

Shoshana review

Though it boasts her name and often features her voiceover narration, Shoshana is really the second lead as the film spends more time with Tom. Perhaps because it's a product of British filmmakers, the movie seems more concerned with the question of how the British keep the peace in this fraught situation rather than the Jewish fight to rid them from their ancestral homeland. Tom is portrayed as a sympathetic "good cop" who opposes Morton's ways and his thinly veiled anti-semitism, but he's still a key figure in the occupation of someone else's land. The level of Shoshana's involvement with terrorism/freedom fighting is left largely ambiguous, as though the film is concerned that a 21st century audience might not have an appetite for sympathising with her cause. At one point Shoshana makes a revelation regarding just how deeply involved with terrorism/freedom fighting she really is. It makes us wonder if we've missed a reel of the film, as it's difficult to understand why Winterbottom would choose to keep all of this offscreen.

There's little of interest in the romance between Shoshana and Tom, which is largely rendered in blandly written scenes in which the former insists a Jewish girl and a British boy don't belong together in 1930s Palestine. The thriller subplot has promise but probably requires a director more accustomed to genre cinema than Winterbottom. As Avraham Stern, the leader of the Irgun, Aury Alby is a menacing presence, but the complete lack of nuance to his villainy would be better suited to a less complex subject.

Shoshana review

The most interesting aspect of Shoshana is the title character's transformation from a woman who believes her people can achieve their aims through peaceful means to the cold-hearted figure we see gunning down Arabs in the film's final image. Unfortunately none of this is actually portrayed onscreen. Near the end Winterbottom delivers a striking match cut that transitions from Shoshana walking in civvies to her clad in combat fatigues with a rifle over her shoulder. We're left to wish we could see the unmade film that exists between the two images.

Shoshana is on UK/ROI VOD now.