At the heart of elegance is simplicity.
When you have just one thing to say, things typically turn out well. When you have more than one thing to say, the game gets complicated. Not that simplicity loses its importance. Just that you have to analyze and delineate simplicity applicable across strands to link them all together.
The Little Traitor had its moments of doubt, when you thought it might derail and end up a mess. But it didn’t. Much of it thanks to the talent of a young actor called Ido Port supported magnificently by an equally competent cast led by Alfred Molina. This 2007 Israeli-American film, tells the story of Avi Leibowitz aka Proffy, whose family moved to Palestine after enduring the anti-Jew atrocities of World War II. The year is 1947. The region is controlled by the British and the modern nation of Israel is yet to be a reality.
For Proffy’s family, who have moved here with Israel in mind, the British presence is unacceptable. The youngster and his friends emulate the adults around them. They forge their own little conspiratorial circle, assume a cloak of secrecy and hatch plots designed to irritate the British and force them to leave. Life changes when Proffy is caught for being out during curfew by a British soldier, Sergeant Dunlop. The boy confronts the soldier with tenor molded by the adult world around him; he resonates defiance and anti-British sentiment. Dunlop though, proves to be the inquisitive self-critical sort with an appetite for learning. He seeks Proffy’s help to learn Hebrew and understand the writings of Judaism. For Proffy, it becomes opportunity to brush up on his English. Unknowingly the little boy finds in Dunlop, a person he can confide in and talk to comfortably, something his father, committed to Israel and cast on serious lines, has denied him. As his friendship with Sergeant Dunlop grows and he fails to report for his gang’s next mission, Proffy’s friends discover his proximity to the enemy soldier and brand him a traitor.
Into this simple story line, are added the strands of Proffy’s own growing up. Such layering in the narrative is made possible by the empathy Dunlop offers; it opens up room in the story for more than one of Proffy’s struggles. For a while, having enjoyed the simplicity of the film progressing on a single track – something you find in works from the Middle East and West Asia – you fear, it may end up a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Miraculously it doesn’t. Ido Port, his expression alternating between the puzzlement before questions; delight at the opportunity to know and the satisfaction of knowing, holds the narrative together with his portrayal of Proffy. The multiple strands blend and you end up with a heart-warming film. The movie is based on the novel, Panther in the Basement by Israeli author, Amos Oz.
The Little Traitor is currently available on Amazon Prime.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)