Dir/scr: Nadav Schirman. Germany-Israel-UK. 2013. 99mins
A captivating and emotional story of a Palestinian man turned Israeli spy, The Green Prince represents another triumphant nonfiction entry from Oscar-winning producers Simon Chinn and John Battsek (Searching for Sugar Man, Man on Wire, One Day in September). Like their previous documentary successes, The Green Prince combines elaborately staged cinematic reenactments, an absorbing plotline, full of twists and turns, and a profoundly sensitive portrait of the individuals at the centre of the story.
The Green Prince ends on a beautifully humanistic note.
For all these reasons, The Green Prince should find plenty of welcome distribution slots, both in the US and abroad, and in cinemas and on broadcast.
The film also follows in the footsteps of recent documentary triumphs about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such as The Gatekeepers, 5 Broken Cameras and Waltz with Bashir, while also maintaining its uniqueness and adding new layers of information and dimension to the fraught political situation.
Indeed, The Green Prince is more than the docu-thriller it initially appears to be, with its pulse-pounding score by Waltz with Bashir composer Max Richter and ominous aerial surveillance footage of Israel. Ultimately, it is a surprisingly moving story of a young man’s life-long struggle with shame, and the unlikely friendship he forged in his attempts to escape that burden.
Israeli-director Nadav Schirman (The Champagne Spy) introduces us to “The Green Prince” himself Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of prominent Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, only as a shadow in an interrogation room. But quickly Schirman turns on the lights, illuminating a deeply complicated figure, seemingly both naïve and shrewd, who recounts his story as if his life depended on it—and it probably does.
How does a young man, whose father, family and identity is inextricably aligned with Hamas become a turncoat and work for the Israeli enemy—which Mosab reminds us early on is “more shameful than raping your mother”?
Through interviews with Mosab and his Israeli handler Gonen Ben Yitzak, the film effectively charts Mosab’s intriguing transformation, following him from a teenager who wants to seek revenge on those who imprisoned his father to a prisoner appalled at the violent actions of Hamas, to an idealist who will seemingly do whatever it takes to stop his father and others from getting killed by either side.
With his wide almost bulging brown eyes staring intently at the camera, Mosab speaks intensely about his conflicted positions and shifting attitudes. He makes for both a compelling and sympathetic figure, and when he smiles, recalling a rare happy moment in which he cooked alongside his father before going to prison, it’s impossible not to smile along with him.
Schirman also gives viewers an ample understanding of Mosab’s bind, caught in a web of lies. One scene recounts a polygraph test he undertook by the Shin Bet, Israeli’s security agency, after he had already worked for them for years. “Have you ever planned attacks against Israel?” they asked him. The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, because his job as a Shin Bet source was to take part in such planning activities and then report them.
The film’s reenactments keep the story visually engaging, as well. But the massive amount of recreations, particularly of surveillance footage, undermines the credibility of those moments where the film employs actual archival footage.
Eventually, The Green Prince ends on a beautifully humanistic note. Schirman lifts the material out of the mire of politics and provides an uplifting and satisfyingly cathartic conclusion. For all of its political intrigue and military operations, it’s ultimately a story about the close bond between two men, one Palestinian, one Israeli.
Production companies: A-List Films, Passion Pictures, Red Box Films
International Sales: Global Screen GmbH
Producers: Nadav Schirman, John Battsek, Simon Chinn
Executive producers: Thomas Weymar, Sheryl Crown, Maggie Monteith
Cinematography: Hans Fromm, Giora Bejach, Raz Dagan
Editors: Joelle Alexis, Sanjeev Hathiramani
Music: Max Richter
Main cast: Mosab Hassan Yousef, Gonen Ben Yitzak