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Soldier/Citizen

Dir: Silvina Landsmann. Israel. 2012. 68mins

A better fit for TV programming than theatrical release, not only because of its running time but also its approach, Silvina Landsmann’s eye-opening documentary Soldier/Citizen (Bagrut Lochamim) – made in 2006 but released only now - runs the risk of being considered dated, at least by close observers of Israeli politics. A fly-on-the-wall portrait of an Army course in Civic Studies for young soldiers going back to civilian life after three years in uniform, it is better at suggesting a prevalent climate in a certain type of Israeli society than at discussing the burning issues that are being brought up.

Though there is much to mull over in Landsmann’s film.

Often unfocused, repetitive and terribly talkative for a non-Hebrew speaking audience, it may turn, despite the relevance of the subjects discussed, to be a tough international sale.

Argentinian-born Landsmann, who served in the Israeli Army, studied film in Tel Aviv but lived for the last ten years in Paris. She first heard about the courses organised by the IDF for its soldiers who had not completed their matriculation exams before being drafted from her brother, who was teaching in one of them. 

She accompanied him with her camera in July 2006 observing the soldiers, still in uniform and carrying their weapons around wherever they go, and once she got everyone’s permission started shooting the Civic Studies course, trying to do it as unobtrusive as she possibly could.

The course is no doubt a particularly thorny subject in Israel, a country that pretends to be Jewish and Democratic at the same time and has still to find a satisfactory solution to what appears to be a contradiction in terms and its legal system. Thus, for instance, its laws distinctly discriminate in favor of the Jewish population and have been taken to task more than once, for instance in the recently Sundance-awarded The Law in these Parts.

Though there is much to mull over in Landsmann’s film, in a politically volatile situation of the kind Israel is going through, six years is an eternity and the same film, made now, might have offered even more polarised, extreme reactions. Since the film was made, a new Law of Return has raised the pitch of arguments between Right and Left into the stratosphere; the clash between the secular and the rapidly growing Orthodox fundamentalist Community is more virulent than ever before and the constantly stalled Peace talks have brought most to the brink of exasperation. In comparison, Landsmann’s soldiers are relatively tame.

 

Production company: Contino Films

Producer/cinematography: Silvina Landsmann

Executive producer: Marek Rozenbaum

International sales: Doc & Film International, www.docandfilm.com

Editor: Gil Schnaiderovich

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