Thursday, January 25, 2018

WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER: Amos Gitai's further exploration of Israel and Palestine

He's been doing this for quite some time. With 62 credits under his belt, writer-director-documentarian Amos Gitai has been tackling the fraught question of the creation of the state of Israel and the yet-to-be-created (in our modern era) state of Palestine, along with so many other questions involved in Jewish and Arab life, for 44 years now. And yet the world -- especially that section of the middle east known as The West Bank, the Gaza Strip and certain other surrounding locations -- seems no closer to Middle east/Israel-Arab peace than 70 years ago when the state of Israel came into being.

Mr. Gitai, shown above, who gave us the 2016 amazement Rabin, the Last Day, now turns his attention to the continuing struggle for Arab rights in (what is now) the state of Israel. His new film, WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER, is a kind of series of video (or, for the older examples, filmed) "snapshots" of interviews with various individuals or groups mostly working toward peaceful and fair solutions to the conflict. It chronicles these from at least 1994 onward till very recently.

We see and hear Rabin, of course, and realize all over again what a huge loss this leader's assassination meant to the peace process. We also witness an interview with Arabs in Gaza from 1994 and watch in surprise as they single out Yasser Arafat as a traitor and betrayer for his attempt at working toward peace.

More current and unsettling, however, are the little interviews to which we're privy that involve everyone from young Arab men to a not-yet-adolescent Arab boy, above, who speaks with great desire and expectation of becoming a martyr. Gitai tries to help the boy see perhaps some other possibilities. But no, nothing can compare to this one!

We see a clip of the fine organization Breaking the Silence and, about a half-hour in, we meet an Israeli journalist who offers up the most damning and difficult things regarding Israel's expected and far too immediate future. Parents -- both Palestinian and Israeli (shown at bottom)-- who have lost their children to this violence bond and share their sorrow in one of the documentary's strongest scenes, and when Gitai speaks with a group of Arab men, it may remind you of similar discussions from the recent doc, In the Land of Pomegranates.

We hear from Knesset members, past and present -- one pro-peace, the other (to my mind, at least) sleazily pro-Israeli dominance at any cost. Then, finally and most surprisingly, we meet a couple of "settlers" (below) who -- oh, my god -- seem to actually want peace. The movie is definitely weighted toward peace and justice, for all the good that would seem to be doing at this point in history.

One of the most unfair and unnecessary injustices is shown us in a scene involving a hugely helpful and quite necessary school for Bedouin children (below) that the "settlers" are trying to close down. While there is not a whole lot here that hasn't been seen, heard or considered at some point along the way, Gitai's doc makes clear that it remains absolutely necessary to keep trying to bring an end to the injustice and violence that has plagued Israel/Palestine over the past half century and longer.

The movie closes with shots of a lovely carousel spinning around, and with an event that includes food, music and dance and brings together Arabs and Israelis. But just as with climate change, and as that journalist mentioned earlier points out, for the state of Israel there is but ten years -- at best -- remaining before the "point of no return" has been reached.

From Kino Lorber and running just 88 minutes, West of the Jordan River opens tomorrow, Friday, January 26, in New York City at the new Quad Cinema.

Elsewhere? I would hope so, but according to the film's web site, no further playdates around the country seem to be scheduled., Eventually, one hope we'll be able to see the film via streaming and DVD.

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