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Review: Israelis moving to Europe face family conflict in ‘Back to the Fatherland’

(L-R)- Filmmakers Gil Levanon and Kat Rohrer in a scene from “Back to the Fatherland.” Credit: Back
Filmmakers Gil Levanon, left, and Kat Rohrer in the documentary “Back to the Fatherland.”
(Back To The Fatherland / First Run Features)

Several engaging main characters and warm cross-generational relationships can’t quite offset patchy storytelling and uncertain aims in “Back to the Fatherland,” a documentary about young Israelis who move to their ancestors’ World War II-era birthplaces of Germany and Austria.

It’s an intriguing setup brimming with innate conflict: The elder Jews sought refuge in Israel; their progeny are escaping it due to personally troubling political and social shifts.

But directors Gil Levanon and Kat Rohrer, whose grandfathers were, respectively, a Holocaust survivor and a Nazi officer (a paradox that never quite takes hold), present intriguing ideas about victimhood, rising nationalism and more without sufficient context or depth. It also takes awhile to realize that Levanon and Rohrer, sporadically on camera, are the filmmakers — and a couple.

That Levanon’s grandfather abhors her plan to move to his native Germany gets lost as the film follows two other Israelis — Dan, a sculptor living in Berlin, and BMW employee Guy, who relocated to Austria — as they square their thoughts and choices with their deeply loving grandparents.

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Dan meets grandma Lea in her hometown of Vienna, which proves less wrenching than the kindly nonagenarian expects. Guy’s visit with grandpa Uri in the Austria of his youth is more challenging. Both are moving, transporting episodes in this well-intended, if underexplored, portrait.

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‘Back to the Fatherland’

In English, German and Hebrew with English subtitles

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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