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2004 (Israel)  »

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Achet Bodedet  »

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sympathy for the soldiers, despite the best efforts of the director
29 October 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

If you limit yourself to just one documentary, make it One Shot. You will be rewarded with two unforgettable films—one consciously created by director Nurit Kedar and another one that emerges despite her intentions.

The film by Kedar, scriptwriter/editor Tali Halter-Shenkar, and Yoni Zigler, director of the opening segment, is shocking and accusatory as it interviews and comments on snipers that accompany most regular Israel Defense Force squads. The opening begins the indictment, depicting ritualized movements by masked men wielding scythes. The clothes, the khaffiya-draped heads, and the ceremonial routines are reminiscent of archival photos of terrorists in training camps but these angels of death are Israelis. The Hebrew lettering of their insignias is translated as "You can run but you can't hide," presenting the soldiers who carry out "targeted killings" as faceless dealers of death. These images of anonymous purveyors of death return throughout the film, countering the personal interviews which insist on the men's individuality. The agenda of the filmmakers is clear; Israeli snipers are murderers. The symbolism of the scythes is augmented by the blurred green light of night vision goggles worn by actual soldiers and by a host of other images: monochromatic, war torn buildings in "refugee" camps, a solitary Palestinian schoolboy, the silent and beautiful sunset, the sunbathing Arab child. Add the restrained sound of chanting Imams and even the flurry of stones thrown at Israeli police is reduced to innocence by the insistent rattle of gunfire. When these images are alternated with the actual interviews, and we hear the snipers' words about the joy of killing, the sense of power, and the "game" of death, even defenders of Israel are shaken. And for those who come to the film already condemning Israel and its policies, the words and images confirm that these men are cold blooded killers and make it easy to level at them the accusation hurled at Nazis, namely that they were moral barbarians, manipulating the tools of a technologically advanced civilization against the helpless.

But there is another film here, one that may explain the IDF's cooperation in the making of One Shot. Stalin was purported to have said that death of millions will be ignored more easily than the death of one because a million is but a statistic. Journalists, documentary filmmakers, and storytellers fight the namelessness of statistics by focusing on individuals, making the death of a specific person real. The strategy works just as well in reverse; it is easier to condemn a group than an individual. And in introducing us to a few individual snipers, Kedar succeeds in humanizing them. Whatever their initial comments, as they speak, the men reveal themselves to be soul-searching, often conscience stricken, always articulate and intelligent people. It becomes clear that the club of Nazism, a favorite stick of Zionism bashers, simply cannot be wielded here. These haunted ex-soldiers will never hide behind claims of "We were just following orders," and turn into old men lying to themselves about their innocence. All of them demonstrate an awareness of the significance of life and are clearly committed to preserving it in the future. They might complain about the restrictions the IDF had placed on them during missions, such as firing only at legs or targeting only the specific person and withholding the shot if it may hurt someone else, but in retrospect they are pleased that the restrictions limited killings and protected those who were not targets. Though the images attempt to point viewers in one direction, the words defy the attempt. There are no madmen here, declaring it sweet and glorious to kill for one's country. There are only young men clearly struggling to find the right thing to do among the conflicting demands of country, morality, and the imperative to survive.

Image and language are both hypnotic in One Shot, whether in the service of the view presented or the view that emerges. The Israel Defense Force was either very foolish for allowing the interviews and ignoring the powerful, pro-Palestinian visual context or incredibly optimistic in its belief that the essential humanity of the men will triumph over the filmmakers' point of view. List me as one left with the belief that if this is the worst of the Israeli fighters, the possibility of eventual rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians is likely because these designated "assassins" lack anger, are devoid of hatred, and free of self-justification and rationalization.


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