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Motion Pictures are not one, but many genres. There are films poised
solely to entertain, others to politicize, and yet others are art.
FREE ZONE is art in a film format. Just as most art, it relies more on senses, feelings, aesthetics, and perceptions. Unfortunately, for the unimaginative and unengaged, it can sometimes be unintelligible.
The film begins with a very long close-up shot of a beautiful young woman (Natalie Portman) copiously crying in the back seat of a car, to the Jewish children's rhyme "Had Gadia". The powerful arrangement in crescendos adds pathos to the girl's exteriorization of heart-felt anguish, and the seamlessly-never-ending stories of increasing consequences and characters (sung in Hebrew but appropriately subtitled) add confusion and exasperation. The sense of utter discomfiture is only compounded by the audience's utmost ignorance of the character, her surroundings, and her motivations. Her despair is our despair, but we, much as she also seems, are lost.
Slowly we learn she is parked by the Kotel, or Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem. We also learn she has just fought with her would-be mother-in-law and broken off her engagement to her Spanish-Israeli fiancé. Thus her personal loss becomes the middle-eastern mourning, and her very personal suffering symbolizes the tears and hopelessness of whole peoples and an entire land.
Immediately one is faced with a choice. To watch the rest of the movie as a narrative, or to perceive the allegory it propounds. To choose the first is to misunderstand it entirely, and miss on the powerful images and senses.
Rebecca (Natalie Portman) is an American who struggles aimlessly through life without a clear sense of identity. Her father is Jewish, but she carries little or no pride in her heritage, ignorant even of her status as a Jew (or not). She feels uneasy in her American home, and in a search for an identity that suits her, she acquires (and loses) a fiancé and a home in Israel. How she reacts to the landscape (so extensively shot, in exquisite details) and to the people (diverse, albeit through quick and superficial contacts) symbolizes the author's perception of the American (as in people or nation) own sense of identity and appreciation of the Middle East.
She joins Hannah (Hanna Laslo), a Russian-Israeli middle-aged woman whose life stories unfold piecemeal as a symbolical-historical window on the Israeli nation, on a trip to the Jordanian free trade zone on a mission for personal and familial financial salvation. Her determination and her biases (often even callousness) are obviously shaped by her pressing needs and her clear life trajectory, as evidenced by the unusually thorough (as opposed to the other characters) exposition of her past. Her reactions to her American travel mate, the obstacles in her quest, and the eventual Palestinian they meet clearly embody the Israeli national persona, dreams, fears, and strengths.
The Palestinian our heroes meet is Leila (Hiam Abbass), whose family present as Hannah's possible salvation (as in the money her husband owes her) or damnation (as in the fall-out from the misguided actions of her rebellious and contentious son). Torn between her loyalties to her own family and her duties toward this Jewish woman, she joins the other women in their quest for redemption.
The women allegorize their respective nations. And yet, their struggles are very personal and transcend national identities and interests. The combination of the three, and how they interact amongst themselves to work out their individual travails, masterfully conveys the powerful emotions in the confluence of tribes, nations, countries, and religions in this most convoluted region. The attention to the national frontiers (what role they play in segregating these peoples) juxtaposed to the more promiscuous exchange amongst the actual peoples (their representational counterparts in the characters) is quite fascinating.
The narrative is non linear, relying mostly on feelings and emotions. The filmography is untraditional (a lot of hand-held camera movements, as if the audience is privy to the story, watching a family road trip video) and experimental (long and confusing, yet dramatic, layering of images and back-plots, creating familiarity with back stories, yet maintaining distance thru the lack of clear focus or images). The plot is mostly allegorical, therefore characters are not really introduced and developed as they are thrust upon the audience (with the implication that one already knows them, or who they represent), played out in short pericopes and less of an overarching story.
The film is beautiful and insightful. If you prefer mass produced Hollywoodean one-size-fit-all entertainment, this is not the movie for you.
Unlike some other people, I did find this movie to be a great one. Amos Gitaï show us the middle east complexity through three beautiful characters, one Israelian, one Palestinian and one American with Jewish extracts. Those three women are supposed to represent three "forces" who can play a part in the situation over there : Israel, Palestine and the "international community" represented by Natalie Portman's character Rebecca. Rebecca appears to be just a witness to what is happening. Although she tries to get involved and to ease the conflict down her efforts remain without effect. The movie shows as well that Israelians and Palestinians could talk to each other instead of getting at war. They have quite the same problems, they live on the same land, they are quite the same people, they have quite the same cultural background. but some have to forget about their fear and parano while the others need to stop fanatism growing within their ranks. Amos Gitaï wants to show us as well that Israelians should accept to talk to moderate Palestinians. It's the only way to move towards a better tomorrow otherwise fanatics will be their only opponents and there will be no possible dialogue. Some people here have not understood a thing in the movie. I read two main wrong critics. One was about the language used in the movie. It seemed disturbing for some people that the movie is not only in English. But truth is not everybody in the world speaks English ! In Israel, the official language is Hebrew. Palestinians speak Arabic. So it's normal that those three languages (with English) are used and spoken in the movie. Otherwise it would be just sci-fi or American fantasm ! The other thing is about Rebecca's crying at the beginning of the movie. She does not cry about her loss. She and we don't give a damn about this loss. As a near to be witness of the situation in the Middle East, she cries about that, about her uselessness, about the vicious circle which make good people killing each others. That's why as well she leaves running at the end of the movie because she can't help Israel and Palestine to get along. She can't understand their fighting. Thank you Mister Amos Gitaï.
The confused American Rebecca (Natalie Portman) has left USA to live in
Jordan. After breaking her engagement with her Israeli boyfriend, she
asks the Israeli taxi driver Hanna (Hana Lazlo) to take her anywhere
but the place where she is. Hanna tells her that she needs to go
Jordan's Free Zone, a place surrounded by Syria, Iraq and South Arabia,
to receive US$ 30,000.00 that the Palestinian partner of her husband
called "The American" owes to him. When they arrive in the location,
they do not find the "The American" but a Palestinian woman called
Leila (Hiam Abbass). Hanna forces Leila to take her to meet "The
American" in his Oasis, but when they arrive there, she is informed
that his son has burnt the place, stolen the money and crossed the
"Free Zone" is a movie with great acting leaded by the adorable Natalie Portman, Hana Lazlo and Hiam Abbass. The road trip through the locations in Jordan and the soundtrack are other attractions. However, the screenplay is simply awful. Following the "Dogma 95" style, with a free handy cam, no lighting, many improvisation etc., the director and writer Amos Gitai makes a confused and inconclusive story with one of the worst opening scene I have ever seen, with Natalie Portman crying without explanation and a boring song for almost ten minutes. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Free Zone"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My husband and I waited for months to see this film of DVD and when we
finally got it and watched it we were terribly disappointed. The film
is about as shallow and politically loaded as watching an episode of
Studio 60. The three main female leads are hollow, with the exception
being Hannah Lazlo, but even her performance feels forced and
1-dimensional, as if someone told her ahead of time she'd win an award
for taking on this role. Truthfully, the movie's start with Natalie
Portman crying in a car and her mascara running down her face for 10
minutes to Chava Alberstein's Had Gadya wasn't a highlight either.
Advice to those seeking a good, emotionally charged, culturally deeper Israeli film: Broken Wings.
This is more of a response to the latest post by "Mrnaturalsez". I guess we are expected to take your word on a movie instead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, which incidentally gave this move high praise. The film was an interesting, raw look at Jerusalem and Jordan as one would see it as a traveller. Plot has nothing to do with appreciating this movie, so I think you missed the mark. The story was used as a reason to explore the middle eastern culture. It was also interesting seeing Natalie Portman speak in her native Hebrew language. The film drew upon Portman's real life, as she was born in Isreal and had a Jewish father and American mother. Some films are watched for action, others for art, but I guess one will believe what one wants. There's my 2 cents.
It would be easy to misunderstand or even miss the whole point of this movie. But if you can get past the endless opening scene of a sobbing Natalie Portman, by the end Gitai has explored three characters (with great acting performances), three women from different cultures, and three countries. I don't want to give away the end, but Gitai has managed to make a point about Israelis, Palestinians and, after some thought about his set-up of the character, especially Americans. This makes some of the slower, strained parts of the movie better, even makes them seem to fit together nicely. My grade might be a tad high, but it's rare when any movie maker pulls off character, acting, politics, and characters that well represent their different societies. For that, this movie gets a lot of credit.
Found this movie confusing and felt it could have been done much better. Understood some of the focus in the movie, the bringing together of 3 women from 3 cultures living in countries involved in perilous times etc. Found the length of time that the viewer was subjected to crying at the beginning of the movie too long and belaboured the point that was easily grasped in the first few minutes. The superimposing of scenes became annoying and distracted from the quality of the movie, the flashbacks were poorly done and only added to the confusion. The ending left the viewer high and dry without giving any meaning at all to it. In all I did not enjoy this movie it seemed to be allowed to just ramble along and I am amazed it won awards.
Directed and co-written by Amos Gitai, Free Zone is the first Israeli
movie to be shot in Jordan, and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the
2005 Cannes Film Festival. Without a doubt my interest in watching the
film is for the performance of the luminous Natalie Portman at her
birthplace, and one which spotted a bit of controversy and ruckus with
their filming near the Wailing Wall. But what is essentially my first
Israeli film, I was awed by its simplicity yet powerful underlying
The film is bookended by the cumulative song Chad Gadya which grows on you with each passing minute, but yet watching Natalie Portman's Rebecca crying uncontrollably for more than 5 minutes, somehow just breaks your heart, and you start to wonder why so. We find out later that the American had broken off with her boyfriend Julio (Aki Avni) and is now sitting in a cab she boarded, without a destination to go to in a city not of her own, and begets the driver, Hanna Ben Moshe (Hana Laszlo, in an excellent performance which was to win her the Best Actress Award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival) to take her anywhere. Hanna grudgingly agrees despite having a personal errant to run in Jordan, and brings her along for a ride.
Like a road trip, the cinematography presents the film in 2 distinct ways, one as if you're an invisible passenger on the same journey with the ladies, ever present in the passenger seat, with point of views centered from within and around the vehicle they're in. The other view, as Rebecca puts it, is that it's "amazing to see things you read in the books". We explore the scenery from Tel Aviv to Amman, in this road trip, and always for those (like me) who have yet to visit both countries, allows for a documentary styled eye-opener like a travelogue for sight and sound. Uniquely, instead of being satisfied with just showing endless roads and paths, we get compressed time with a double exposure and superimposition of the back- stories of both Rebecca and Hanna, and learn of the objective of the latter in this journey to seek someone to recover bad debts to the tune of US$30,000.
Being set in the Middle East also brings to mind the volatility of the security environment and peace agreements in place between the Israelis and Arabs. Issues such as those at the border depicted in the film reflects that clear and present tension that security personnel grapple with everyday, as did the radio announcements made over the impending and credible intelligence of threats. When crossed over to Jordan and meeting up with Leila (Hiam Abbass), we sense a deep mistrust between the characters, even though it stemmed from the root of all evil - money.
That aside, the movie did take ample time off to provide a candid observation of common folk on both sides of the border, highlighting their plight to earn a living, and the tenacity and will of villagers who rebuild their lives ordeal after ordeal. Theirs is never to give up.
But I thought the payload came from the very assured direction of Gitai, with a succinct depiction of the uneasy tripartite relationship between the Arabs, Israelis and the Americans, as represented by the respective characters in their dealings with one another. Sure they bond over cigarettes, music and a common goal in their road trip back to Israel, but under this short term peaceful existence you still cannot shake off that aged old deep rooted mistrust, as it manifested itself toward the end and really got blown way out of proportion, dragging it out. I felt it mirrored the challenges for long term peace, and that comes probably only as a result of a profound, sincere and genuine understanding of cultures cutting both ways, as Leila casually remarked starting with the learning of the Arabic and Hebrew languages. And the most interesting note would be that of Rebecca's insistence to tag along Hanna and get herself embroiled in the feud between both sides, only to find herself running away when the going gets hot, either from a lack of patience, or having absolutely no clue and surrendering from trying to seek a workable peace process for all.
Deceptively simple, with a powerful underlying message. And the wonderful performances by the ensemble team of actresses, made this all the more worthwhile to sit through.
I enjoyed this movie, and Im not just saying that because Im Jewish. But things that really really ticked me off was his editing technique, especially the overlapping just made me nauseous. I need to watch this movie again because I didn't understand a lot of the things. I didn't like the ending, it kind of just put me off. Overall it was a fine movie. But can someone please explain why she ran away in the last scene, like out of no where too. The credits were messed too, with the 2 women yelling at each other, it was just pointless. If this movie had better explanation of what in the world is going on, I would had enjoyed it more. I have to compliment the acting though, it was well done. Also, some of the scenes were just way to extended. This movie is worth watching. Great morality and has deep meaning, but it still could have been done a lot better, especially when your showing tragedy in the middle east.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The hallmark of a true star is the ability to shine no matter what the setting. From her work as a young actress in Star Wars and The Professional, to the more mature work in Black Swan (wow) and Mr. Magorium, Portman has never allowed herself to get lost in a movie, and this one is no exception. Other reviewers have questioned the screenplay, the direction, the value of the allegory, and even the use of dialects. Don't care. I stumbled on this film by accident on Pay-Cable, and allowed Portman to take me a scenic tour of the Middle East. She was a great guide, using her own charisma to compensate for any failings in the film -- and, to be frank, there were few such failings over all. The writers had a simple story to tell and they told it. I also liked the sound track, a very effective use of music to counterpoint key scenes. Without Portman, a good film. With her, it is something better.
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