Where to Aim, When to Shoot

Film as a weapon in a time of war: Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival coverage.

 

Quintín is editor of the Argentine film monthlyEl Amante Cine and the director of the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film.

 

A Cinema of Sacrifice

Two Israeli films tellingly relinquish responsibility for past and present

By Neve Gordon

Although All I've Got and Local Angel the two most notable Israeli movies in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival--appear to have almost nothing in common, the specter of sacrifice haunts them both. This is not altogether surprising given that sacrifice has been an important aspect of the holy land's historical narrative.

Every Israeli child learns about Abraham's horrifying three-day trek to the mountains. "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I show you" are God's chilling words. Just as famous is Samson's decision to topple the two middle pillars of the Philistine prayer house, crying, "Let me die with Philistines" as he kills himself together with 3,000 others.

In Israel/Palestine, sacrifice is not merely a theoretical issue, but has been part of everyday reality for years. Since the eruption of the second Intifada in September 2000, close to 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed, and more than 20,000 have been wounded. The Palestinians are fighting for self-determination, while the Israelis are fighting for control. Each side is sacrificing its children for a political and, in some sense, theological cause.

Udi Aloni, director of the documentary Local Angel (screening at Bell Auditorium on Wednesday, April 16 at 9:30 p.m.), ties the bloody history of his people to the religious conception of sacrifice, describing his odyssey--a trip to the holy land after having spent eight years in New York--as a theological/political journey. He strives to grapple with the gory reality of Israel/Palestine, using the great Jewish social critic Walter Benjamin's "angel of history" as a central trope.

The "angel of history" is an angel whose face is turned toward the past, in contrast to us humans who tend to look toward the future. Where we perceive a chain of events such as suicide bombings, extra-judicial executions, exploding houses in city centers, or the daily humiliation of people at a checkpoint, the angel sees one single catastrophe made up of thousands of years of ruins that keep piling up as history unfolds. We go on living our daily lives witnessing one event after the other, while the angel sees the pile of debris grow ever further into the sky.

It is the events that constitute the pile of Israeli-Palestinian detritus--and, more precisely, their underlying causes--that Aloni wishes to explore in his movie. He wants reasons and explanations--and then he wants reconciliation between the two peoples. He tours a country in which racism against Arabs is conspicuous. It is the country in which I drive to work each day, passing hundreds of billboards, posters, car stickers, and graffiti signs that declare, without shame, "No Arabs, No Assaults," "Do Not Employ Arabs," "Enemies Should Not Be Offered a Livelihood," and "We Will Assist Those Who Do Not Provide Work for Arabs."

In other words, Aloni comes to a country that has forgotten its own history. His film, however, fails to capture the blatant racism now common in Israel. So, too, it fails to show how racism feeds off the widespread fear of suicide bombings--a fear that has, in turn, also managed to change the country's landscape. In Jerusalem, downtown streets are almost empty, and most businesses have been seriously hurt by the dramatic decline in clientele. The only companies that have been thriving in the past year are security firms. Every supermarket, bank, theater, and café now employs private guards whose duty is to search customers as they enter.

One of the effects of this new practice is that profiling has become ubiquitous. Arab-looking residents refrain from using public transportation and from going to all-Jewish neighborhoods and shopping centers. It is not unusual when driving in Jerusalem to see groups of Arab men searched at gunpoint by Israeli police, their faces against the wall and their hands in the air.

Aloni tries to describe all this, examining the hatred, death, and oppression. He interviews interesting figures in Israeli and Palestinian life, not least his own mother, former education minister and civil rights activist Shulamit Aloni, as well as Palestinian spokeswoman Hannan Ashrawi. He invokes Hebrew and Arabic music, and discusses the situation with a cutting-edge Palestinian rap group and also with radical professors.

Local Angel has all the ingredients of an insightful film, a film that will say something new and meaningful about life in Israel/Palestine. And yet it is a total flop. Although Aloni has the ideas, the money, and the access to interesting people, he simply doesn't have the know-how to make it all work. This, one might add, is usually what happens when someone with no significant background in filmmaking attempts to produce a movie.

Keren Margalit's All I've Got, on the other hand, is something very different: a short, touching feature that deals with another kind of sacrifice--the sacrifice of love. (It screens at the Bell on Sunday, April 13 at 4:00 p.m.) The viewer is exposed to an interesting and in some ways original love story between "two" couples--one young and the other old. (These couples are in fact the same couple at different stages in life.) The plot is full of surprises, and it has an undercurrent of humor.

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