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By David Finkelstein | November 10, 2011

“Partial Fraction,” an absorbing documentary by Cheb Kammerer and Sharon Horodi, is a portrait of the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv, where the filmmakers live. It is largely a visual portrait, both of the old, run-down looking buildings and dirty streets, and the incredibly rich diversity of the neighborhood’s people: Jews, Latinos, Filipinos, Sudanese refugees, Bukharan “mountain Jews,” Hasidic sects, and more. There aren’t many visible Israeli Arabs, who tend to be segregated in the city of Jaffa.

Horodi and Kammerer have made the choice to present their images and sounds from the neighborhood without voice-overs, interviews, or other commentary. One result of this choice is that a viewer unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not know the ethnic identity of the people he is seeing. (A lot of the information in my opening paragraph came directly from the filmmakers, not from the film.) Israel is a country where people are constantly arguing over the definitions of ethnic and religious groups, and over the relative status of these groups. In the film, one can see quite a few street posters with polemical statements in Hebrew. Ads for luxury condos, and numerous construction projects, show that there are efforts to move poorer residents out, and wealthier, Jewish residents in. The filmmakers have made a strong statement by presenting this film as a visual portrait without labels: it forces the viewer to deal directly with what he sees and hears, and not with his prejudiced notions.

As a New Yorker,  I’m accustomed to an urban environment of extreme diversity, but this portrait of Shapira is full of strange and wonderful things. We see residents who breed pigeons, and people who feed stray cats. The neighborhood seems to be absolutely full of people cooking, eating, and celebrating in the streets. There are many scenes of different groups of people making music and dancing outside, from Hasids to Latinos. Only the prevalence of homeless people seems familiar to a New Yorker, but our homeless people do not usually wear Halloween costumes, as I saw in one shot in this film.

Horodi and Kammerer have painterly eyes, and the film is filled with beautifully framed shots of decaying walls with peeling paint, any of which would make lovely still photos. These shots also inform us about the many layers of poverty and development which make up the neighborhood.

Shot within a few blocks, this film presents certain people who happened to be present within a certain place at a certain time. The title implies the provisional nature of this neighborhood portrait: it is not just a fraction, but a “Partial Fraction.” Nevertheless, the film adds up to a richly rewarding, affectionate, and visually stimulating portrayal of an oasis of diversity within a highly polarized society.

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