This is a new Israeli film, set in Gaza during the first Intifada (precisely in 1989) and depicting the interface between a fireteam of four IDF soldiers and the local population in a densely populated neighborhood. On the odd title (as there is no casbah in Gaza), it indeed comes from The Clash’s hit song, which the soldiers hear on the radio and adopt as their motto. I did not have high expectations for the pic in view of some of the reviews: Le Monde panned it and the Hollywood press was hardly less tender, saying that we’ve seen it all before—of Israeli soldiers amidst hostile Palestinians, that the soldiers were stock characters seen in countless war movies, etc etc. All true. But… I thought that it was not a bad film for what it was and that its reenacting the dynamics of occupation on the ground at the time (and after)—and of the utter futility of the occupation more generally—was dead on accurate (what a masterstroke Oslo was for the Israelis, allowing them to continue the occupation but leaving the policing of the urban population to the PA). On films on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am particularly vigilant in detecting goofs, clichés, implausibilities, factual errors, and other distortions. But there weren’t problems in this one (the pic was shot in Arab locales in Israel, mainly in coastal Jisr al-Zarqa). And I was sufficiently involved in the story. So it gets the thumbs up. And it did win an award at the Berlin Film Festival in February, so I’m not alone in my positive assessment.
The pic’s director, Yariv Horowitz, got caught up in an incident in France a couple of months ago that set Israeli and right-wing Jewish websites on fire for 48 hours, and that I reported on. The incident was labeled as “anti-Semitic” but turned out to be nothing of the sort. Such has happened on numerous occasions in France over the past decade. There’s been a lot of wolf crying over anti-Semitism in regards to this country. And do the wolf criers ever apologize or acknowledge their error when it is revealed that the incident they cried about had nothing to do with anti-Semitism? Hah!
I’ve seen a couple of other films of late on the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One was the ‘Inch’Allah’ (French spelling of inshallah)—again, odd title—, by the Canadian (Quebec) director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, about a young Québécoise medical doctor, played by Evelyne Brochu, who works in a clinic in Ramallah but lives in West Jerusalem, thus finding herself figuratively caught in the middle between the two conflicting parties. This one also won a prize at the Berlinale in February, though I thought it wasn’t too original a film. My reaction at the end of it was bof. This review gets it about right. The lead blogger at the PAC (Palestinian Amen Corner) website Mondoweiss, however, had a post on the pic with the banner headline “Wrenching drama about the occupation, ‘Inch’Allah,’ has been consigned to ‘film festival purgatory’,” in which he linked to a piece by Scott McConnell of Patrick Buchanan’s TAC, who, calling it “a gripping movie”, asserted that
More than any movie I’ve seen, “Inch’Allah” conveys the something of the feel of Palestinian life, sarcastic and bitter in the younger generations, old-fashioned in the older ones, trying cope under a system of domination and control far more sophisticated than anything South Africans could dream up.
Oh please. All I can say is that neither of these guys has seen many films on the I-P conflict.
One film that may be avoided is Eran Riklis’s ‘Zaytoun’ (the Hebrew title translates as “to stay alive”). One would have normally had high hopes for this in view of Riklis’s absolutely excellent 2004 ‘The Syrian Bride’ and 2008 ‘Lemon Tree’. Now Riklis has been on a downward slide since these two but one would still not expect a navet from him. But that is precisely what this one is. The story: set in May 1982 an IDF pilot overflying Beirut in his F-16 or whatever is shot down by a small firearm from a Palestinian fighter in the Shatila refugee camp, parachutes out and lands precisely in the camp, where he is taken prisoner. While in his cell—where he is guarded by teenagers and even children (no joke)—the pilot, oddly played by the not-too-good American actor Stephen Dorff, manages to coax his 13 year-old guardian—played by Israeli Palestinian actor Abdallah El Akal (who’s also in ‘Rock the Casbah’)—, to release him from the cell, so he can make his way back to Israel. The boy—whose parents are dead—does so, as he wants to accompany him, to return to Palestine and his family home from 1948, whose every square inch he knows from family lore. So the two make their way together through south Lebanon—on taxi, truck, and foot—, running the gauntlet of Syrian and PLO checkpoints and while being hotly pursued, but miraculously making it to the safety of the UN base on the border, and just as the June ’82 invasion is beginning. Along the way they naturally forge a bond, with the pilot developing paternal sentiments for the boy. Once in Israel, the pilot decides to take the boy to his ancestral home in the upper Galilee. Arriving in the general area of the now extinct village the pilot doesn’t know where to go but the boy, who knows it like the back of his hand—even though he’s never been there—, directs him. And they of course find it, with the empty home intact, the key in its hiding place—the boy naturally knows where to look—, and all. The Palestinian narrative.
I won’t say what happens after (no spoilers) except that the whole thing was just so preposterous and ridiculous, unlikely and not credible, poorly acted, and drenched in bons sentiments. In other words, the film was a dud, from the opening scene—of Sabra-Shatila kids strolling back and forth across the Beirut Green Line (yeah, sure)—to the tear-jerking end. French reviews were mixed, with Le Monde panning it. On this one, Le Monde got it right.