Monday, November 08, 2021

Aulcie: Israel’s First Superstar Athlete

Aulcie Perry was Michael Jordan, before Jordan was anything in sports—but in Israel. Perry nearly joined the New York Knicks, but was cut at the last minute. Instead, he signed with the Maccabi Tel Aviv pro club in Israel, whose 1977 European championship season was the subject of Dani Menkin’s previous documentary, On the Map. Perry was a major contributor to their success. Israel opened its arms to its new superstar, but Perry was not prepared for the temptations that come with fame. Menkin chronicles his rise, fall, and redemption in Aulcie, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Perry’s family faced discrimination at its ugliest in the Jim Crow south and he grew up amid economic stagnation and gang violence in Newark, New Jersey. However, he found immediate acceptance in Israel, even though he conspicuously stood out from everyone around him. He literally towered over most Israelis, including his teammate. Then one night, Perry met Israeli supermodel Tami Ben-Ami, who was also quite famous for her long legs—and it was love at first sight, at least for him. He would later convert to Judaism, partly for her and partly because it truly spoke to his spiritual needs. He adopted the name Elisha ben Avraham, but remained widely known as Aulcie.

Unfortunately, Perry left a lot of unfinished business back in America. Later in his career, lingering injuries got him hooked on pain pills, which led to harder stuff. As with other athletes, drugs would be his downfall. Yet, even when he was expelled from the country, Israel still loved him. Actually, Israel was happy to welcome him back, but finally meeting the daughter he never knew would be trickier. In fact, that is the goal that drives Perry during the film’s contemporary scenes.

is probably the best sports film of the year, so far (and Menkin’s On the Map is even more rousingly entertaining). It does justice to Perry’s dramatic life story, but it also speaks very directly about what it means to be Israeli. Perry was born an underdog, so it makes sense he found a home in an underdog nation like Israeli. He also had a great, but sadly tragic romance with the late Ben-Ami, who was truly the love of his life and vice versa.

Yet, Menkin’s film is nothing like hagiography. Perry admits all his faults and mistakes, in no uncertain terms. We also hear from his grown son and his mother, who are very frank discussing their relationships with Perry, but without excessive rancor or resentment. In fact, the documentary ultimately ends on a very upbeat note that suggests you can right the wrongs of your life, if you are willing to humble yourself a little.

Indeed, there are times when Perry seems to be using his participation in the film as a surrogate for therapy. Regardless, his candor is pretty brave—and sometimes even uncomfortable to hear. Nevertheless, he is still Aulcie Perry, which has significant meaning for Israel. Indeed, their upset 1977 Euro Championship, which involved a key victory over the Soviet Red Army team, was a victory for the free world.
On the Map does a terrific job chronicling their remarkable season. Aulcie is a bit less triumphant, because that is what real life is like, but it is still very emotionally engaging. Highly recommended, Aulcie opens this Friday (11/12) at Laemmle Town Center in LA and Tuesday (11/16) at the Manhattan JCC--and a VOD release is coming 11/19 at the film's website.