Dir. Amos Gitai. France / Israel / Germany / Italy , 2007. 115 mins.
Amos Gitai's systematic chronicle of modern Israeli history reaches one of its more sensitive and inevitable points in this dramatised version of the recent crisis generated by the unilateral decision, taken by the Sharon government, to dismantle the entire Jewish settlement in the Gaza strip. Its the old story of humans used as pawns in agreater game.
A classic example of real-life conflict in which both sides are victims and none heroic, it is a natural subject for dramatisation. Looking at it all from the point of view of someone completely unfamiliar with the Middle East and its intricacies, Gitai has gathered together a strong cast. It's headed by Juliette Binoche and boasts a guest appearance from Jeanne Moreau, Hiam Abbass and world-renowned soprano Barbara Hendricks; they all lend the production a kind of gravitas.
The usual market for Gitai's work is well-established, international festivals and arthouse venues who routinely buy his films. It will have few difficulties with ARTE style tv sales. Israel 's chief public broadcaster Channel 1 has declined to show it in a public war or words,but Gitai's appeal internationally should weather the storm, and may indeed even by enhanced by it.
After the death of their father, Ana (Binoche), a restless French intellectual who has stayed once in a kibbutz and had given birth there to a daughter she has never met since, and her half-brother Uli (Levo), who has lived all his life in Israel and has come to Europe for the funeral, travel together to Israel. He has been summoned urgently back to his job, as a police officer he is to supervise the evacuation of the Gaza strip settlements. She goes to find her daughter Dana (Ivgy), who lives on one of those settlements, to let her know she is her grandfather's only heir.
Once back in Israel, they find themselves in the midst of a state of emergency. Uli is put immediately back in uniform and starts training for what promises to be a highly publicised, sensitive event. Ana finds it difficult to reach her daughter's place because the Army has sealed the entire area off. The last part, the actual evacuation, with Ana wandering through the lines in a state of complete confusion, portrays the traumatic clash of the police and the soldiers with the fanatically idealist settlers who believe removing them from their land is no less than an abomination, and even if they will not forcefully resist the secular law, they will be making their task as difficult as they can in every possible way.
For Gitai, whose interest usually lies first and foremost with hard issues, and only then in individual characters and plot, this is a departure from routine. In Ana, a distinct effort is made to draw a precise portrait of the bored, well educated, dissatisfied scion of a dysfunctional family relationship. There is no doubt left about her cool relationship with her father and the world he lived in and the frivolous relationship (verging on incest) with her half-brother. Binoche seems to have grown naturally in this part, and drawing her into a conflict she knows too little about, puts her into a state of turmoil she can't really comprehend.
Levo, on the other hand, is once again the tough, macho Israeli carrying a big chip on his shoulder that he has never taken the trouble to recognise. Moreau, as the lawyer reading the late father's will, and Hendricks, movingly performing an adaptation of Farewell from Mahler's Song of the Earth, are distinguished guests but not real participants in the drama. The main actors remain the soldiers and policemen, on one side, and the settlers, on the other, in the film's final climactic scene.
Faithful to his long takes which constitute the basis of his cinematic language, Gitai, with the creative assistance of Christian Berger behind the camera, makes the best of the elegant, old world Avignon locations, and in contrast, of the effectively designed homes to be soon taken apart, in the Gaza strip. There is a touch of gritty, unpredictable, nervous authenticity in many of the angry arguments erupting along the way, once Ana and Uli reach Israel, and a real sense of impotent pain at the sight of the disengagement itself.
Those looking for familiar Gitai signifiers will still find them in some unnecessary directorial flourishes, from the opening encounter of Abbass with Levo on a train to the same Levo getting off the train in Avignon and looking at the compass to find his way as if he were in the middle of the desert. The flowery, poetical, but dramatically superfluous monologue of Yussuf Abu Warda, speaking for the Palestinians witnessing the Israeli withdrawal, is another Gitai standard. Visuals could have easily expressed as much.
Eli Zion (Israel)
Manu de Chauvigny (France)
Tim Pannen (Germany)
Gustav Mahler's 'Song of the Earth' adapted by Simon Stockhausen
Yussuf Abu Warda