The Man They Love to Hate

in 9th Split International Festival of New Film

by Claudia Lenssen

Oliver Stone’s digitally shot documentary is a personal firsthand report on the highly explosive war situation in Israel and Palestine in March 2002. Following the ups and downs of a five-day tour in search of interviews with representatives from both sides of the conflict, it keeps an open minded, somewhat naive perspective of a Hollywood celebrity‘s crew at the front. Somewhat thrilled by the realtime drama, Stone blows up his chronicle with the sound of gunshots and a typical action drama score.

Neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestine, Stone presents himself as a film director and interviewer in search of the dynamics of violence. In March 2002 suicide bombers terrified Israel while the Palestinian territories were under curfew and the Israeli army forces started to destroy Yassir Arafat’s compound at Ramallah.

The documentary team hanging around in a hotel, trying to handle the interviews, stuck at the border checkpoints, lost in the overall bad weather conditions – Stone focuses on direct experience rather than on the abstracts of political case studies.

Despite the different parties they belong to, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres let Oliver Stone and the rest of the world know that Yassir Arafat is the man they love to hate. Arafat is the “persona non grata” to whom the title of the film refers. Since the Camp David Negotiations in 2000 had failed, the Israeli representatives declare him a liar and frankly want to get rid of him.

Shortcuts about suicide bomber massacres in israeli urban areas on one hand and about search-and-destroy-attacks of Israeli tanks in the Palestinian territories on the other hand underline the intensive feeling of increasing paranoia, Stone’s crew is confronted with.

Mission impossible, they head for Ramallah, but twice are told that Yassir Arafat is not ready to talk to them. Interviews with Palestinian fighters follow instead, one with Abu Hassan who declares himself a political leader of Al Fatah (and refuses to shake hands with Stone’s female assistent because he is on his way to pray at the mosque), one with an eloquent young fighter of the Al Aksah brigades (who obviously feels treated as a person and responds to Stone’s questions about his radical thoughts, his personal way of living and about the weapons certain Israeli security service members are selling to them).

As a hot news report Stone’s documentary is no longer up-to-date, but as a personal note on the complexity of that conflict, it is of great interest.