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The year is 1989. In an era of Palestinian demands for independence, the State of Israel sends young soldiers to oversee the Arab population in the Occupied Territories. After one of them is killed, the common fate of four young soldiers and one Palestinian family is sealed. The film describes the extraordinary journey of a young soldier trying to find his place in the chaos surrounding him. Written by
Thoughtful view on Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a small scale setting, observing from very close-by how people on both sides experience it
I saw this film at the Ghent (Belgium) film festival 2013, as part of the section Global Cinema. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something we have seen in the news as long as I live, and I have given up on understanding what all this hostility and bloodshed is about. It looks like a stalemate situation without end. Even worse, since the word "settlements" made its appearance, I have the feeling that the conflict only seemed to escalate, with a peaceful solution getting farther away than ever before. Alas, the effect on the people involved does not get that much attention in the media. It was a reason for me to book tickets for this movie, in spite of it covering a topic that I usually avoid, usually arousing heated disputes even in the country where I live, not giving much hope for a sensible argument.
The synopsis on the festival website promised exactly aforementioned showcasing of the impact on "people in the street". After having seen this film I can only confirm that it lives up to these promises to its full extent. Though it seems to zoom in on one freshly arrived soldier in particular, it broadens its horizon very often, also involving the people around him on both sides of the metaphorical fence. And the fence is metaphorical indeed. I was very surprised to see poorly trained soldiers dispatched in the streets, armed with all sorts of heavy weaponry, but nevertheless relatively defenseless against local people who ambush them where possible and throw all sort of things to the soldiers.
The story begins when someone unknown drops a washing machine from the top of a house, killing one of the fresh soldiers at once. A group of his colleagues is assigned to guard the area using that same house as an observation post, thereby heavily interfering with the daily routine of the family that lives there. What they are trying to achieve from that spot, is not very clear because of the obvious fact (we can see with our own eyes) that the rooftop could easily be reached from other houses in the neighborhood. That is precisely the reason why the attacker who threw the washing machine in the first place, could get away with this action easily.
Soldiers and family involuntarily have to live together for some days, unwillingly forced to share the front door and stairs. The different attitudes on both sides get more prominent every day. Also, there are some among both sides who do not pull harmoniously together. That is precisely the beauty of this plot and the circumstances these people find themselves in. The soldiers are merely longing for the end of their engagement, their only purpose being to keep their heads low and not getting hurt in the process. The people living in the area just want to be left in peace, but also know how powerful they can be when joining forces against the intruders. The people try as much as possible to make the lives of the soldiers as difficult as possible, using ambushes, guerrilla tactics, or they just overpower soldiers on the street by their numbers.
All in all, a compelling plot and a perfect décor, precisely to show us what the synopsis of this film promised. We are in a perfect position to follow soldiers from very close by, at the same time also showing the citizens from a near distance. We are invited to feel along with both parties as much as possible from our safe distance. Extra complications that arise from language differences, are nicely demonstrated too, for instance when a young boy gets his hand on a grenade, just to play a "hands up" game he sees on television. I cannot identify myself fully with either party on the political level. Nevertheless I felt absorbed by the situation and how the story develops. No spoiler alert is needed when I say there is no happy ending. This movie ranked 18th for the audience award, with score 4.08 out of 5, still not bad but in comparison with the competition I think it deserved better.
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