Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Israel & Palestine again in Hava Kohav Beller's remarkable and demanding documentary, IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES

We're only three days into the new year and already we've got an extraordinary documentary that, for anyone genuinely interested in and/or concerned with the seemingly intractable Israel/Palestine conflict, becomes an immediate must-see.

Hava Kohav Beller's (the filmmaker is pictured at right) IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES is a two-hour-and-five-minute trip into the minds and hearts of  a group of young people -- some Palestinian, some Israeli -- who spend time together in Germany as part of the Vacation from War project that has been going on, I believe, since around 2002. They meet and spend a good deal of time asking each other pertinent and very difficult questions about how each views "the other." These questions, along with their answers will prove about as thought-provoking and uneasy-making as you can imagine, but they will also enable you understand and appreciate the difficulty of this ongoing situation in ways I believe you won't have been able to experience previously. And certainly not in the manner you do here.

The Arabs and Jews you meet in this doc come from all sorts of backgrounds and attitudes. What unites them is their genuine attempts to see things with as much honesty and understanding as they are capable.

None of them are capable of as much as one might want, but then, neither perhaps are you or I. This is something else the film brings home, as we viewers begin to struggle as much as do the kids to find our own way home -- via history and the need to see the reality of what exists now, and what can be done to change or at least ameliorate things.

Interspersed with the young folk's discussions are three other documentary "stories" each complete with its own set of characters we follow for awhile. One of these involves a former cameraman who himself was wounded badly and evidently permanently traumatized as a victim of a Palestinian suicide bomber om a public bus. We meet him and his wife (she is shown below), and learn how they and their children have managed to endure the aftermath of all this -- not, it turns out, by remaining as a family.

We also watch a young Palestinian mother bring her small son who is sick with a heart blockage on a lengthy trip to an Israeli hospital, where doctors will operate and try to save him.

Finally we spend some time with an Israeli woman (above) who is trying to raise her family while living on the cusp of the violence on what seems to be practically the border between territories. These stories each bring us into the conflict -- but in quite differing ways.

Ms Beller's film is weighted, I think, toward Israel -- not so much by making the state right or wrong, but via Israel's being in control, as it has always been since its creation more than a half century ago. These three stories that we become privy to all somehow place Israel in prominence. In one, an Israeli is the great victim, in another the Israeli doctor is the hero who saves the Palestinian child, and in the third, the Israeli family is simply trying live/coexist (the final scene, in which the children talk about sending lanterns across the border -- and what might arrive were the other side to send them back again -- is priceless).

I wish Ms Beller had been able to give us a fully Palestinian story taking place in the occupied  territory, but perhaps this was not possible. We do get stories from our Palestinian young people (just as we do tales from the young Israelis), but this is not quite the same thing.

Otherwise, though, the movie does a splendid job of forcing us to consistently confront both sides of the issue and to see things from the alternative viewpoint. It is moving and surprising, even occasionally funny, but always thoughtful and humane. (Its title, by the way, refers both to that fruit grown in Israel and to its euphemism/nickname for the hand grenades so often used against Israelis.)

From First Run Features, In the Land of Pomegranates, in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, opens this Friday, January 5, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and will be part of the Westchester Jewish Film Festival in Pleasantville ,New York, come March 13. I hope there will be many other locations added in the near future, as well.

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