You can say it’s “complicated.” You can pick a side and vehemently stick to it, lose friends and in some cases your job in the process. You can march on the streets and join the increasing number of voices calling for a permanent ceasefire or decide that there are still many eyes to be had before revenge is satisfied.
What’s become increasingly more obvious is that the current conflict between Israel and Hamas has once again, and perhaps more starkly and in greater polarising fashion than ever, placed the Middle East glaringly and despairingly back in the spotlight of world attention and there’s almost no way to ignore it.
This week’s films focus on Israel, Palestine and the deep scars that living in a constant state of possible war on the one side, and under constant siege on the other have wrought on the psyches of ordinary people who live in an extraordinary reality.
These are not films that offer easy solutions or make broad generalisations, but they do attempt to offer ways of facing the reality of life in one of the world’s most volatile regions with bravery and hope for a better future and outcome for all who live there.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR — Mubi.com
Ari Folman’s groundbreaking animated documentary from 2008 is part documentary, part psychotherapy session, part uncomfortable eyewitness testimony to a shameful moment in Israel’s past and wholly original.
As a 19-year-old conscript, Folman was an IDF soldier during the 1982 war with Lebanon where he bore witness to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which Lebanese Christian militias killed over 3,000 civilians — mostly Palestinian and Shia Muslims — in Beirut under the sanction of then defence minister Ariel Sharon. Almost a quarter of a century later, Folman who is haunted by strange dreams of the carnage, realises that he has no memories of the event and so he begins a journey to find men who, like him, were soldiers at the time, to discuss their memories and find out the truth. He also interviews a psychologist dealing with PTSD and a journalist who covered the massacre in a Rashomon-style multi-character retelling of history that paints a devastating picture of the futility of war and the terrible scars it leaves on those who are sent to wage it.
It may not offer easy answers or resolutions but it does stand as a uniquely executed documentary, surreal animation and powerful drama that is one of the 21st century’s most original and provocative films, impossible to pin down but difficult to forget once you’ve experienced it.
DIVINE INTERVENTION — Netflix
Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s 2002 film is a deeply political but drily humorous absurd comedy about the mundane but extraordinary realities of life under occupation. Almost completely silent it’s a mordant examination of the manner in which nearly all aspects of daily life are marked by divisions — from a look exchanged between two taxi drivers on opposite sides of a border checkpoint to a running gag about two neighbours who engage in a quiet but determined fight about rubbish.
Suleiman stars in the film as one half of a romantic couple who live in different districts and are trapped by the restrictions on freedom of movement that have become such a depressingly accepted part of their daily lives. One of the few places they can meet is in a car in a parking lot at one of the checkpoints between Israel and Palestine and there they chastely hold hands, glare at the Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint and observe the absurdities unfolding before them.
It’s a slight but profound film that quietly and effectively makes the point that normality in the occupied territories is deeply abnormal — characterised by paranoia, madness and seething resentment. Reminiscent of the wordless films of French comic master Jacques Tati, it’s a film that offers much to ponder, beneath its starkly simple and black humoured façade and in a bureaucratic twist worthy of its subject, it was criminally refused an Oscar nomination because the Academy refused to recognise Palestine as a country.
In its many silences lie contemplative reflections on a way of life that is anything but normal and a hope for something resembling a normal way of life, that two decades later seems even further away than ever before.
OSLO — Showmax
There are disappointingly few dramas made either by Israeli or Palestinian directors that deal with the behind-the-scenes realities or effects of the negotiations that led to the briefly hopeful promises of the 1993 Oslo peace accords signed between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
The process was always fraught, tenuous and uncertain and though it seemed to offer a sliver of hope for a peaceful coexistence, these dreams and the possibilities of what might have come out of the accords were irrevocably dashed when Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fundamentalist in 1995.
Director Bartlett Sher’s adaptation of J.T Rogers’ 2016 Tony-winning play takes viewers into the complicated back room deals and personal histories of a small but key group of diplomats and players that occurred over six months and resulted in the eventual signing of the agreements. Key to these are a Norwegian diplomatic couple played by British actors Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott whose past personal experiences in the region serve as strong motivating factors for their determination to achieve the impossible.
It’s a big picture, diplomacy drama but at its heart is the sincere attempt of everyone involved to achieve the impossible task of solving one of modern geopolitics most difficult problems. One can only hope that the lessons learned both from the initial miraculous promises of Oslo and their later crushing failure to be realised, serve as a means for getting things right, if there’s ever another chance to do so.