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AFI Fest 2014: ‘Self Made’ – Film Review

The official plot synopsis of Self Made heralds it as an Israeli body-switching comedy. I suppose this is technically accurate, but it’s also a bit misleading. It’s more like Trading Places or The Prince and the Pauper than, say, Freaky Friday, and even that’s not the most accurate description. This is a very quiet, subdued movie and different from anything I’ve ever seen.

The film focuses on two women: Mikal, a famous and privileged Israeli woman who’s just woken up with amnesia, and Nadine, an eccentric Palestinian woman who works for the Israeli version of Ikea and whose family doesn’t really understand her.

Rather than tell anyone that she doesn’t remember anything about her life or the people around her, Mikal decides just to go with the flow and wing it. This means dealing, somewhat in a daze, with a barrage of appointments throughout the day, including a laptop repair technician, a German TV crew, and a man who plays music for crabs. Much of the humor in the film comes from Mikal trying to navigate this strange cavalcade of visitors, all of whom she apparently made appointments with, back when she was herself. All the while, she tries to get a handle on exactly who “herself” really is. Is it even someone she wants to know?

Meanwhile, Nadine is dealing with problems of her own. Before going to work every day, she has to wait for hours at a checkpoint/roadblock to be checked, approved, and, at times, condescended to by Israeli soldiers. That’s just par for the course in her life, though. The problem comes when one of the soldiers breaks her earbuds, thinking it might be a bomb wire. To make matters worse, she’s fired from her job, and her family wants to send her away to live with her aunt, who will hopefully help her be more “normal.”

Then, the two women meet and suddenly switch places. There’s little fanfare about it. Nadine is taken back to Mikal’s home, and Mikal goes back to Nadine’s family—on opposite sides of the checkpoint. Everyone who looks at Nadine sees Mikal and interacts with her accordingly, and vice versa. We, the audience, still see Nadine, but to the rest of the world, she’s apparently Mikal.

This is a very strange and quiet movie, but definitely enjoyable. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, mainly from Mikal’s parade of strange visitors, and a number of chuckle-to-yourself moments, mainly from Nadine’s behavioral eccentricities. There’s a lot to be said for the differences between Israeli life and Palestinian life, but, for the most part, the movie doesn’t say them—merely shows them, without commentary.

This is definitely not a Hollywood film. It doesn’t have a traditional story arc. Both protagonists are very passive, mostly letting things happen to them, rather than trying to make things happen for themselves. Even after they switch bodies, neither seems at all concerned with switching back or even surprised at what’s happening to them. By the end, the film will likely have a lot of audience members scratching their heads. Still, for those who don’t mind a bit of ambiguity, this is an enjoyable movie. If you want a thoughtful and amusing look at Israeli and Palestinian lives, as well as just human nature in general, you’ll want to check out Self Made.


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