A Tragedy About Silence

in 17th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Nadine Richon

The Fribourg International Film Festival went through a very unpleasant moment resulting from a bitter argument created by some supporters of Israel about Mohamed Bakri’s film «Jenine… Jenine .» This documentary was quickly put together amidst the ruins of the Jenine camp after its destruction by the Israeli army and was denounced for its so-called «encouragement of racial hatred.» In addition to this ideological attack, some very hard criticism was also voiced in more cinematographic terms.

In a strange meeting of opposites, the two critical attacks finally came together in accusing the film of advocating a single viewpoint, that of the Palestinians, and of exploiting emotional responses with close-up shots of tears, without any «aesthetic restraint» or sense of irony. It is true that some might have expected a more television-style documentary with Palestinian witness accounts and opposing Israeli accounts. In as far as a real investigation was impossible to make in an atmosphere undermined by censorship, the film could not have been made in any case with more clarity. When a Palestinian states that «every time a child is born, they murder it», we do not need an Israeli spokesperson to tell us that it is untrue. We know this and do not doubt that other exaggerated statements are likely to be made in the name of the Palestinian cause.

But we also know that young stone throwers have been killed – and still are – by Israeli soldiers who use military means during their incursions which are disproportionate and show no respect for human life. The interest of «Jenine… Jenine» lies elsewhere. It is a tragic fable about real people abandoned by the international community. Their suffering goes beyond the perimeter of the Jenine camp. It is not confined to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a tragedy about silence and poverty. The Palestinians filmed in Jenine are a forgotten people. By using close-ups of their tear-stained faces, the filmmaker remains faithful to a moral and aesthetic sense of urgency. That of bringing a people who are so tragically isolated to the world’s attention.

Nadine Richon