There’s something familiar about “Kaddish for a Friend,” the coming of age/unlikely friendship tale screening at this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Indeed, Berlin-born director Leo Kashin’s full-length debut reeks of “Karate Kid,” Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” and any number of movies from the “young fish out of water befriends a crusty old guy from a different culture” genre. But the film has so much spunk and earnestness that familiarity takes on a quality of warmth, rather than of staleness. To put it another way, it’s like watching a really well done adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy as a high school flick, only this time, “The Karate Kid” is the source text.
The film tells the story of Ali (Neil Belakhdar), a Muslim teenager whose family is newly arrived to Berlin from a Palestinian refugee camp. Despite being a sensitive, kind boy with excellent grades and a penchant for drawing, he soon falls in with a gang of Muslim teens from his housing project. You’ll recognize them from any number of films involving teenagers; they’re the type of group whose brazen, boneheaded cruelty defies both logic and the nice, non-insane protagonist’s association with them.