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Review: In 'Aliyah,' a drug dealer hopes for a better life in Israel

The excellent, atmospheric drama "Aliyah," which follows a brief transitional period in the life of a French-Jewish drug dealer, evokes such fine, existential 1970s character studies as "Five Easy Pieces" and, especially, Karel Reisz's "The Gambler." It's the kind of serious, thoughtful, yet accessible portrait we see all too little of these days.

First-time director Elie Wajeman, working off an understated, naturalistic script he co-wrote with Gaëlle Macé, swiftly draws us into the Parisian working-class world of Alex (a strong Pio Marmaï), a conflicted 27-year-old poised to stop selling drugs — and cease bailing out his black-sheep brother, Isaac (Cédric Kahn) — and start fulfilling his potential.

When he learns his cousin Nathan (David Geselson) is opening a restaurant in Tel Aviv — and backers are welcome — Alex decides to escape his sketchy existence and move to Israel. That is, if he can raise the investment funds quickly enough (a big cocaine deal will do it) plus complete his aliyah (the immigration by Jews to Israel), which involves learning Hebrew and reconnecting to his roots.

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The sudden appearance of a well-matched new lover (Adèle Haenel) diverts but doesn't derail the now-decisive Alex. He believes he must do something good in his life before he can be loved — and it's clearly first things first.

Tense, smartly crafted and highly resonant, "Aliyah" is one of the best films so far this year.

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"Aliyah"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills

In French and Hebrew with English subtitles

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