Where are those much maligned 'thought police' when you need them?
An odd question, I know, but it came to me when I began reading about a new Australian drama called Last Dance, to be screened at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival.
The film's director, David Pulbrook, a former creator of 'cops & robbers' series for the idiot box (Homicide, for one), is quoted as saying that he had first started thinking about it 30 years ago, it being a movie that involved "putting an elderly Holocaust survivor and a young Palestinian in a room, and seeing what happened." (Hostage plot twist still under wraps, Philippa Hawker, Sydney Morning Herald, 3/12/11).
(Er, David, if you don't mind my asking, would a Holocaust survivor these days be anything other than elderly?)
Anyhow, moving along - and just so as we're clear here - I should add that the The Australian Jewish News (27/7/12) and the Brisbane Times (7/8/12), to cite but two press items on Last Dance, both describe the said young Palestinian as a 'terrorist'.
Are you getting the picture?
OK, so this Pulbrook bloke once had an incredibly dumb idea in his 30s. Forgiveable, you might argue, at such a tender age. But here he is today, at the advanced age of 64 (having made zero effort to learn anything about Palestine or Palestinians, if the plethora of press reports on his film are anything to go by), turning this utter foolishness into a film!
With Pulbrook's 'brilliant' idea nagging at me, I began asking myself: what the hell was he thinking when he conceived it (if, that is, what was going on in his head at the time can be described as 'thinking')?
Let me speculate: 'If I take an elderly Holocaust survivor, a woman to boot, with the kind of past which, Hollywood tells us, confers infinite wisdom and a holiness akin to that of the saints, and put her in a room with one of those stir-crazy, fire-breathing, anti-Semitic Palestinian terrorists, again straight out of Hollywood, what's going to happen? Will he go straight for the jugular? Will there be blood on the carpet, the walls and the ceiling as well? Will the room be transformed into a makeshift Auschwitz? Will the terrorist do a strutting, goose-stepping Hitler? Or at least a smiling, moustache-twirling Haj Amin Al-Husseini?' (No, not the latter. Pulbrook wouldn't know who he was.)
'Or will he fall under the spell of the Holy One, and beg her forgiveness for his grandparents' having once cumbered the soil of Eretz Israel before being sent packing by the heroic Zionist poet-warriors of Ben-Gurion in 1948? Will he perhaps try to make amends by volunteering to work in a Holocaust museum, or even better, embark on an 'Israel - What's Not for a Palestinian to Love?' lecture tour with Vic Alhadeff and the lovely Linda?'
OK, MERC, you may ask, aren't you jumping the gun here a little, sounding off before having seen this masterpiece? Shouldn't you maybe give it the benefit of the doubt?
Well, having dug up a thing or three about it on the net, I don't think so:
1) Our Palestinian terrorist, Sadiq, you see, was actually one of a pair who tried to blow up a synagogue (the other succeeding, our guy chickening out but wounded in the blast nevertheless). A synagogue, no less! Now how many Palestinians do you know of who've ever blown up a synagogue?
2) As he flees from the fuzz, Sadiq finds refuge (as is only to be expected!) in the flat of a Holocaust survivor, Mrs Lippman, whereupon, noticing her obviously Jewish paraphenalia, he puts a knife to her throat and tells her he'd be happy to "rid the world of one more Jew." So forget about Israeli targets, Palestinian terrorists are apparently nowadays scouring the globe for Jewish targets. Well, I'll be damned, why has nobody told me?!
3) And you know what Mr Palestinian Terrorist's gripe is? Apparently, some Palestinian boofheads climbed up onto the roof of his house and, just for a lark, started taking pot shots at innocent Israeli bystanders (who just happened to be hanging around in army uniform and armed to the teeth), thus drawing fire from some equally innocent Israeli tanks that just happened to be sauntering by. This perfectly understandable Israeli reaction - The first law of Palestinian/Israeli dynamics: Palestinians act - Israelis react - apparently deprived our terrorist of his family. Now being your common and garden ornery Palestinian (as opposed to our eminently rational friends, the Israelis), who does this klutz blame for the loss of his family? Why the Israelis, of course! Can you believe it? This even had the AIJAC reviewer scoffing: "... as though accidental deaths in the midst of war justified murdering Jews in Melbourne." (Film review: Last Dance, Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz, aijac.org.au, 6/8/12)
4) Now, as it happens, our Holocaust survivor, Mrs Lippman, once lived in Israel where she had a son, Ari, killed in the line of soldierly duty, presumably by Palestinian 'terrorists'. The problem here, of course, is Pulbrook's historically false linking of the Holocaust with the state of Israel, as though Israel was first and foremost conceived as a refuge for Holocaust survivors, rather than being, as is actually the case, the culmination of an aggressive process of Zionist colonization which began long before the Holocaust was even a gleam in Hitler's eye. Ah, but that'd involve Last Dance's creator in a bit of reading, wouldn't it? Perish the thought!
5) And wouldn't you know it: Mrs Lippman sees something of her dead son in Sadiq, and when he collapses from his wounds, she nurses him through the night instead of calling the police! But surely that's only to be expected from Mrs Lippman? After all, didn't that Yiddishe mama of all Yiddishe mamas, Golda Meir, once quip authoritatively: "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us"? There you go, the second law of Palestinian/Israeli dynamics: Palestinians kill - Israelis nurture.
6) Pulbrook says the film "digs beneath the stereotypes to reveal the basic humanity of the... protagonists and transcends the tragedy of their pasts and speaks of optimism, possibilities and tolerance." And yet, by deploying the Holocaust in the way that he has, failing in any meaningful way to factor in the context of Palestinian dispossession and occupation, and falling back on the Hollywood cliche of the Palestinians as irrationally angry, dyed-in-the-wool, anti-Semitic terrorists who wreak havoc on Israeli Jews and non-Israeli Jews alike (even those, heaven forbid, who live in faraway Melbourne), he's built stereotypicality into the very foundations of the film.
7) Pulbrook says also that "[w]e were careful not to take sides and worked closely with Palestinian and Jewish communities to ensure a balanced point of view." With respect to working closely with members of the Palestinian community, I simply don't believe him, and challenge him to produce his alleged Palestinian consultants. That, as he also claims, he liaised closely with the Jewish Holocaust Museum and interviewed Holocaust survivors I can believe.
Finally, a word on actor Firass Dirani, who plays the Palestinian terrorist Sadiq. Granted that young Australians of Arab origin (Dirani was born here of Lebanese parents) who happen to be aspiring actors may well find it more difficult to obtain film roles than actors of Anglo-Australian background, the question still needs to be asked: what self-respecting person of Arab origin, with even a modicum of understanding of what is going on in the Middle East today, could possibly stoop to aid and abet that demeaning Hollywood stereotype, the Arab terrorist?
Quite frankly, the deracinated Dirani obviously has no idea what he's doing:
"Firass Dirani... took the role, he says, precisely because 'it scared me', and he relished the challenge of 'creating the journey of the character, and pulling it off convincingly'. Dirani, whose background is Lebanese, had to adopt a Palestinian English accent, learn Arabic phonetically, and most of all, work on the physical and psychological drama of what happens to Sadiq over a short space of time... The other challenge, he says cheerfully, is that he had to grow a beard for the first time. It took a couple of months, and it was like having a pet - 'I shampooed it, I combed it, I fed it from time to time'." (Hostage plot twist still under wraps, Philippa Hawker, Sydney Morning Herald, 3/12/11)
Nor does it appear that he even knows what a stereotype is:
When asked if he worried about being stereotyped playing violent, Middle Eastern characters, Dirani answered: "You've got to outperform the stereotype and maybe they'll give you a chance to spread your wings." (Firass Dirani aims to make killing in Hollywood, Herald Sun, 13/2/12)
Outperform the stereotype?! Have you ever heard such nonsense?
Finally, as if the thought of Last Dance packing them into Australia's cinemas isn't galling enough, add the fact that Award-winning director Julian Schnabel's powerful exploration of the Palestinian tragedy, Miral (2010), has to date been totally ignored by Australian distributors.