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Originally published Friday, September 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Arab-Israeli trip to nowhere

Given the state of the Middle East, it's too bad "Free Zone" isn't more disciplined. We could use the message of unity that Israeli director Amos Gitai has attempted here, but what we get is a rambling road movie with noble intentions and an excess of speechifying.

Movie review 2 stars

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"Free Zone," with Natalie Portman, Hanna Laslo, Hiam Abbass. Directed by Amos Gitai, from a screenplay by Gitai and Marie Jose Sanselme. 90 minutes. Not rated; contains some language, brief violence. In English, Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum.

The title refers to an actual customs and tax-free zone in northeast Jordan, which is the destination of Hanna, a middle-aged Israeli woman (Hanna Laslo) who drives there on a business mission accompanied by Rebecca (Natalie Portman), a young Jewish American distraught over a breakup. They later encounter Leila (Hiam Abbass), a Palestinian woman who joins their conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

When he's not employing long dissolves and visual overlaps to illustrate this overlapping of cultures, Gitai is too busy applying metaphorical weight to these characters to make them flesh-and-blood representatives of their disparate cultures. With its palpable sense of unpredictable danger, the road trip (and its authentic locations) is far more interesting than the emotional lives of this otherwise admirable trio.

— Jeff Shannon

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