Dir: Avi Mograbi. Israel-France. 2008. 81mins.
Avi Mograbi’s documentary essay takes the themes of Cannes hitWaltz With Bashir one step further and explores the guilt that many Israelis face every day of their lives. Mograbi films a young soldier who takes full responsibility for the war crimes he has committed but expects to be forgiven. Less visually spectacular than Bashir but just as powerful and painful, this unconventional picture is perfect festival fare and though itshard ironic edge may mean the film does not have the same cathartic effect as Bashir, it should find an art house niche internationally.
Structured like a Brechtian piece with songs and music, the film begins with a young couple talking into a video camera as they try to make sense of their relationship (their faces are masked to prevent identification). We next see Mograbi explaining the outline of his project and working with composer Noam Enbar on songs that are Kurt Weillian in style. The film then turns into an interview with a former member of an elite military unit who turns out to be one half of the couple from the opening scenes.
Also digitally disguised, he describes the training he received - training which turned young men into trigger-happy killing machines - and then recounts one operation in which his unit was dispatched to avenge the murder of a group of Israeli soldiers by killing an equal number of innocent Palestinian policemen picked at random at an isolated roadblock. Mograbi and the young man go out together to search for the peaceful little village where the operation took place. The film then returns to the couple with the man hopelessly trying to alleviate his guilt by having his girlfriend repeat in her own words the horrific tale he has just confessed to.
Aided by Philippe Bellaiche’s effective, mostly handheld camera, Mograbi cuts between all these sequences with such seamless results that one wonders whether the film wasn’t written to a script and whether the ex solider and his girlfriend aren’t actors. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter for Mograbi’s material rings true.
The director’s blackly ironic commentary (half of it sung by Mograbihimself) underlines his own uneasy ambivalence towards his subject. His protagonist may be a likeable person but he is also a murderer and may even have enjoyed killing at the time. Is this young man one of us or a monster in disguise’ No wonder his girlfriend, when he asks if she thinks he is a killer or not, can’t give a straight answer.
Mograbi fleshes out this agonising moral issue confronting Israel, whose soldiers are expected to defend their own land and to police a territory which is not legally theirs. Some won’t like Mograbi’s position, others will, but many will probably prefer to ignore it.
Les Films d’Ici
Studio National des Arts Contemporains
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