Aliyah is the Hebrew word for the travel back to the Holy Land by the Jewish diaspora. It represents a spiritual homecoming through a physical displacement. Alex here uses Aliyah to escape his disordered life in the French capital of Paris. A small-time drug dealer, he struggles to find purpose amidst tense friendships and family relations.
Aliyah touches on contemporary anxieties like no other film. Eschewing the crime genre, yet teasing audience expectations, the movie surprisingly focuses on Alex’s spiritual anxiety. Human relationships are subject to scrutiny instead of blaming societal circumstance. Human agency and therefore responsibility is Wajeman’s main preoccupation. He avoids pathos and genre cliches by honoring his character’s intelligence.
Our on-screen surrogate is Jeanne (Adèle Haenel), introduced as a “goy friend interested in Jewish culture” (goy is the Jewish term for a non-Jew). She becomes Alex’s lover and helps him literally model his existential predicament. She draws a diagram illustrating the ties that bind him to his life in Paris and includes herself in the model as the necessary outsider perspective that precipitates his spiritual need for Aliyah. It’s a kind of doomed love story, but it has levity instead of gravitas.