Despite the utter universality of its theme, it's strange to consider how often the pervasive cinematic subgenre of the "coming of age" saga totally gives women the shaft. While boys and their ages of self-discovery are typically back-dropped with compelling socio-political context—or at the very least, interesting themes like class, gender, or college football—women's maturation, an arguably more complicated process, is regularly relegated to the dustbins of princess fantasies, boarding school sisterhoods, and Jane Austen novels. Which brings us, rather thankfully, to director Joseph Cedar's Campfire—an Israeli film that tactfully balances the emotional weight of a beautiful widow and her two teenage daughters against a subtle condemnation of the Zionist settlement movement of the 1980s.
And yet despite the house-clearing characterization of the previous sentence, Campfire's greatest strength is its relative simplicity—the film is respectful enough of its audience to allow for a complicated socio-political context and respectful enough of its characters to let that context remain in the background.
Centering around burgeoning narrator Tami Gerlik (Hani Furstenberg)—the widow's meek, awkwardly beautiful youngest daughter—the film splits nearly equal time with the selfish yet sympathetic mother Rachel (Michaela Eshet) as she struggles for love and social acceptance on the first anniversary of her husband's death. Motivated as much by her desire for community as she is by her devotion to the settlement movement, Rachel desperately maneuvers to secure her family a founding place among a new Zionist community—despite the community's hesitance to welcome a family without a patriarch, and her daughters' general displeasure with the move.
Feminine coming of age lynchpins ensue, including the customary lip-syncing-in-an-empty-house scene, a relatively tasteful kissing-yourself-in-the-mirror sequence, a bit of blissful blanket-clutching, and ultimately, the looming shadows of sexual abuse. But in spite of its many conventions, Campfire primarily succeeds as an honest portrayal of relationships between mothers and daughters—as well a rare moment of coming of age gravity for the fairer sex.