Campfire tells the story of Rachel Gerlik (Michaela Eshet), a 42-year-old widow raising two teenage girls in Israel in 1981. Rachel's desire to join the new Zionist settlement in the West Bank is based on her need for security as well as her conservative religious allegiances. But the founding committee, particularly the leader Motke (Assi Dayan), is wary of accepting an unmarried woman, so Motke's wife, Shula (Idit Teperson), becomes Rachel's matchmaker in order for Rachel and her daughters to be accepted.

While Rachel dates two different men, Yossi (Moshe Ivgy), a van driver, and Moshe (Yehoram Gaon), a smug cantor, her daughters find their own romantic outlets. The rebellious Esti (Maya Maron) dates a soldier (Yehuda Levy), and the younger, sweeter Tami (Hani Furstenberg), also the narrator of the story, develops a crush on a new neighbor, Rafi (Oshri Cohen).

Tami tries to ingratiate herself with Rafi and his rowdy friends, but her yearning to socialize turns into a nightmare when she is molested at a holiday bonfire. When Tami is falsely accused of seducing the boys and the real crime is hushed up by the religious leaders, Rachel looks at the settlement and her religious convictions in a new light and Yossi helps Rachel learn a new way to live.

A number of recent efforts by Jewish filmmakers, some Israeli, have dealt with Israeli's conservative, theocratic state in more critical and candid ways than some would like or expect. The most significant of these works are the films of Amos Gitai, but Joseph Cedar is creating a stir with now just two features. (His first, Time of Favor, from 2000, showed a group of Israelis bent on destroying a Muslim shrine.) Still, Cedar humanizes the Israeli characters and gives no representation to the Palestinian people, so such "balance" and "fairness" might be considered a weakness. Making the political so personal has its dangers, too, but the story seems to accurately reflect the ambivalence within the Jewish community to build the settlements in the first place.
Campfire finally succeeds because Cedar skillfully develops his narrative (his direction is also much improved since Time of Favor), and he is ably helped by a strong cast led by Eshet and fine production, beginning with Ofer Inov's cinematography. Campfire is recommended.

-Eric Monder