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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Gei Oni - Valley of Strength
Directed by Dan Wolman
Dan Wolman Productions 07/12 Feature Film
In the late nineteenth century, Fania (Tamar Alkan), a shy but beautiful mother with a baby, arrives in Jaffa in Palestine from Russia in search of a new life. Since her parents were all killed in a pogrom, she is traveling with her uncle and traumatized brother. They are able to stay at an inn thanks to a charity program. However, when Fania's uncle can't find work, they are left without many options.
The Jews believe that God works in strange and surprising ways. At the inn, Yechiel (Zion Ashkenazi), a widower with two children, is very much taken by Fania. In an act of boldness, he asks her to marry him and come away with him to northern Palestine where he lives in a Jewish community trying to cultivate the rocky land they purchased from local Arabs. She agrees to marry him only if she is allowed to bring along her brother.
This stubborn young woman is determined to take good care of her new family. She is given a royal welcome by Riva (Levana Finkelstein), her next door neighbor. Fania is a naturally nurturing person. She is always there with a cold compress for someone who is sick. She patiently removes bugs from the children's heads. She restrains her husband when he flares out at his son in anger.
Fania is proficient in several languages including English, which she uses to communicate with her sister in America. In two of the most startling scenes in Valley of Strength, she unleashes two more special talents. When Riva is very sick and desperately needs milk and food to live, Fania goes to an Arab gathering spot and trades her blouse for the needed items. And in front of a group of strangers, she plays a piano piece.
Dan Wolman directs this engrossing drama based on a bestselling 1983 novel by Shulamit Lapid. Tamar Alkan was named as Best Actress of the Year by the Israeli Film Critics Association for her performance, and it is certainly worthy of such acclaim. When her neighbor Riva calls her "a pearl" that is only half of it. Fania consistently puts others before herself, works hard in the fields without complaint, is willing to have Arab women look after her baby when she can't do it herself, and has a smile for everyone that lights up the room.
After waiting just right amount of time, this extraordinary woman shares with Yechiel the secret that has put a roadblock in the further evolution of their relationship and their marriage. Her willingness to trust him at this point is a powerful exclamation point to her survival skills and strength.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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