The Israeli drama “Time of Favor” has a certain timeliness to it–its depiction of the chasm between secular realists and fundamentalist zealots in the Jewish state has undeniable interest at a time when the Middle Eastern conflict has once more entered a violent phase and the possibility of an “end game” is being debated–but that can’t overcome its dramatic feebleness and a distinctly homely production. Joseph Cedar’s film is clearly sincere, but ultimately its melodramatic heaviness swamps its good intentions.

The skeleton of the script is a romantic triangle, a miniaturized “Pearl Harbor” arrangement, involving Michal (Tinkerbell), the daughter of a traditionist rabbi living in a West Bank settlement, and two of the teacher’s students, studious Pini (Edan Alterman) and his best friend army officer Menachem (Aki Avni). Just as Michal rebuffs Pini’s advances, Menachem returns from training to take leadership of a newly-formed military unit composed entirely of Orthodox recruits, and he and Michal fall in love. Much of the footage is devoted to their inability to stay apart despite the effect they know it will have on Pini, and ultimately Pini, feeling betrayed, undertakes a bomb assault against the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, a sacred Muslim site. In the supposedly tense finale, Menachem and Michal, though suspected of complicity (along with Rabbi Meltzer) in the plot by government agents, track Pini through a maze of tunnels leading to the mount, seeking to dissuade him from his plan.

Aside from the fact that in the current circumstances it’s odd to encounter a script that centers on a Jewish suicide bomber, “Time of Favor” loses points in not sufficiently clarifying either the political or the religious issues underpinning the story. (It’s frustrating that the plot contains absolutely no Palestinian presence, for example.) The narrative shorthand probably wouldn’t matter to an Israeli audience, but in America it could prove a problem for many viewers. Nor, under Cedar’s rather plodding direction, do Avni, Tinkerbell and Alterman succeed in transforming the lead characters into much more than stereotypes. The production, moreover, is at the lower rungs of the professional ladder: the picture often looks dim and murky, and the performances suffer in the gloom.

One can admire the fact that through “Time of Favor” Cedar is expressing his indignation at the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and trying to expose the rift that the horrible occurrence highlighted in Israeli society. Unfortunately, his earnest but heavy-handed effort neither clarifies nor successfully dramatizes the issues he’s trying to raise.