Gaza and West Bank: So Far Away, So Close

in 63rd Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Eberhard von Elterlein

Finding a motto or a red line within the chosen films is always a difficulty for the Berlinale. Considered from the very beginning as a political festival, with its strategic position between East and West-Europe, it changed its position after the heavy political changes in the last decades. So Festival Director Dieter Kosslick searched for new aspects within the chosen films. Private battles, absent fathers or lost generations have been strong items in the last years. This year Kosslick declared the motive of strong women as an obvious aspect in different films.

Nevertheless there are timeless political problems that are always reflected in the festival. Aside from the difficult political and cultural situation in Iran, which was this year reflected by Jafar Panahi’s new film Closed Curtain (Pardé) in Competition — unfortunately without the presence of the director himself — it is always the Israel-Palestine conflict that comes close to the audience in Berlin. This year five examples could be found in the Panorama-Section. Alongside three in the document-section (A World Not Ours, Art/Violence and State 194) there were two other very interesting fiction films. The better one of those two, Inch’Allah by Canadian Director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette, was the strongest film, not only in the Panorama Section but in the whole festival itself — and maybe this is no coincidence that is has a strong female representation in focus.

Inch’Allah tells the story of Chloé (Evelyne Brochu), a young doctor from Québec, who every day crosses the border into the West Bank to take medical care of Palestinian refugees. Living by herself in a little apartment in Israel, she is befriended by her neighbour, the Israeli soldier Ava (Sivan Levy), who is secretly fed up with the humiliation of the Palestinian People at the border, where she works. While this is a friendship of two young giggling girls having drinks, fun and some chat with slight political dimensions, Chloé’s connection to Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), a Palestinian mother who searches for remnants of daily life within the mountains of garbage that is to be found next to the border, is of a more complicated nature.

Driven by deep sympathy and subtle mistrust in the same way, Rand expects that Chloé will take sides one day, especially when a young Palestinian boy is senselessly driven to death by an Israeli Jeep, and Rand’s older brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid) produces posters in his copy shop to find a sympathetic audience for this senseless and too quiet death, while everybody is talking about Palestinian suicide attempts. Driven by this inner conflict of her protagonist, director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette finds strong images in this her second feature film. Apart from taking sides she portrays the two different surroundings that are divided by the border in a lively, believable way and stays close to the subject.

While choosing a neutral person as a protagonist, the film explains the difficulty of making a decision or having an opinion in this complex situation. The audience sees through the exploring eyes of Chloe, what explains some sentimental moments when Rand is using cosmetics to taste the ‘Western style’ Chloé represents. While the story bares a strong content itself, the masterly decision of the young female director is the film’s structure. Like all good films it is not told linearly, but in an elliptic way that leads the audience in the wrong direction at first. However, this makes all the greater the impact at the end where you see that every little side plot, every motive and every symbol has its own meaning and function in this near-masterly directed film. Like in all good films, Inch’Allah finds a resolution from a position of where there has been plenty to discuss.

Also strong, but less impressive is Rock the Casbah by Israeli director Yariv Horowitz. The title is based on the famous song by Punk rock band The Clash, that some bored Israeli Soldiers hears on a rooftop in the Gaza Strip in 1989 during the first Intifada. They search for two young Palestinians who killed an Israeli Soldier by throwing a washing machine from that roof top, where the soldiers now sit and watch. Yes, they sit and watch and talk, and this dull daily work is the main problem of the film at the same time. The authenticity of the surrounding and the play of the Israeli and Palestinian actors, and some nice visual gimmicks like a donkey with an Israeli flag that suddenly arises after a gunshot, and a dog named Arafat who one of the soldiers takes care of, cannot compensate for the lack of dramaturgy and tension. Also, director Horovitz chooses the youngest soldier Tomer (Yon Tumarkin) to reflect the situation but this character is too weak to identify and empathise with.

Maybe he should have chosen a strong woman instead? Well, sometimes mottos of a festival do make sense…

Edited by Steven Yates