Breaking Bread

Peter Malone MSC 30 May 2021

Documentary about a food festival in Haifa, both Israeli and Palestinian/Arab cooks participating, a contribution to peace and reconciliation.

BREAKING BREAD. Israel, 2020, Israeli-Palestinian cooking festival. Starring Dr Nof Atamna- Ismaeel. Directed by Beth Elise Hawk. 85 minutes, Rated M (Coarse language)

Actually, there is little bread to be seen in this quite spectacular chefs’ story. The focus is on a vast array of dishes manifesting the creativity of that area of the Middle East referred to as the Levant, ranging from Syria through Lebanon on to Israel and Jordan to the Gaza Strip. And for audiences outside the area, these dishes have star quality! As the camera frequently moves to extreme close-ups, it is almost as if these dishes were echoing Gloria Swanson’s demand in Sunset Boulevard, “I’m ready for my close-up….”.

Given the enormous popularity of television programs such as MasterChef, there is a vast audience and they are ready, even eager, for this kind of documentary and one hopes they hear about it and go to enjoy seeing it.

Speaking of MasterChef, the host for this documentary and for the Festival is Dr Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef competition. She is on a quest to make social change through food and founded the A-sham Arabic Food Festival where pairs of Arab and Jewish chefs collaborate on exotic dishes. Dr Atamna-Ismaeel is a genial host, offering all kinds of information and aa good tour guide for all the dishes which will feature.

The audience is invited to the Israeli coastal city of Haifa for the three-day food festival, which, while showcasing Arabic cuisine, is a festival of collaboration. In fact, the film opens with a quotation indicating that while food will not be the solution for world peace, it is a good start. And here we see it in action.

The participants often point out they are citizens of Haifa, and be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian, they are able to live in harmony, and are critical of the small percentage of extremists in the city. They do not shirk the difficulties and tensions in Israel and the Gaza Strip, but emphasise that common humanity is the key to living together.

And this is nicely exemplified by three pairs of chefs who work on the specialist dishes. There are pairings of Jewish whose ancestors migrated from Europe and an Arab Israeli living in a town bordering on Lebanon which then was cut in half, one part in Lebanon, the other in Israel. There is also a chef with French Catholic and Jewish parentage, another whose ancestors came from Morocco. And there is a genial middle-aged couple who for decades have shown harmony in their marriage, she Jewish, he Arab, but both considering themselves Israelis.

So, the political situation is not ignored.

But, the focus is definitely on the food, with visits to markets, selection of ingredients and explanations of specialties of the region, the detailed preparation, cooking and timing all covered… And, of course, the finished products in those spectacular close-ups.

The main participants (interestingly the featured chefs are men) own restaurants and tell the stories of their families, the origins of the restaurants, customers. On the other hand, many of the festival judges are women.

Breaking Bread might be called a specialist film – but, among the audiences who will enjoy it, there are many cooks who would love to be specialists!

Hi Gloss films
Released 3 June
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media