Monday, June 25, 2018

Foxtrot? Tommyrot! 2

When I responded to Paul Byrnes' Herald review of the Israeli film Foxtrot (see my 21/6/18 post Foxtrot? Tommyrot!), I was under the impression that the grief-stricken Israeli parents of Act 1 were those of an Israeli soldier killed in Act 2. This, it seems, is not the case, as yet another review of the same film in the same paper (why?) indicates (A bloody legacy, Stephanie Bunbury, 23/6/18).

The parents who wake to a knock on their door one morning, only to be told by military officials that their soldier son, Jonathan, has been killed, apparently represent every Israeli parent: "In Israel, actor Lior Ashkenazi says, everyone knows exactly what has happened; in a country with compulsory national service, that morning knock is like a code. This woman's child must be dead. 'In Israel, everybody knows somebody in this position... It surrounds you: the grief'."

To which I can only add - Bunbury doesn't, of course - if the occupying Israelis are enveloped in grief, it is simply beyond imagining what the occupied Palestinians, whose death toll is infinitely higher, are going through. But when was the last time you saw a commercial release featuring Palestinians in a sympathetic light (not to mention getting TWO reviews in the same media outlet)? In fact, what this 'morning knock' business is really all about is hyping a supposed threat to the occupier by the occupied, and casting the occupiers as victims.

Bunbury then says of Michael, the father, that he "fought his own war in Lebanon. Of course he did: there is always a war on. Everyone carries the same burden." It seems she's blissfully unaware that all of Israel's wars have SFA to do with self-defence, and everything to do with acquiring more territory. Such land-grabs, of course, are always hyped as existential threats, and the "burden" in murder and destruction is borne exclusively by Israel's Arab victims.

Moving on to the second act (which, you'll recall from Byrnes' review, is set at a checkpoint in the desert), we're told that it's set at a "checkpoint near the Lebanese border." Here the confusion grows. The soldiers manning the checkpoint are described as lifting "the barrier for a lone camel passing through." There is, of course, no desert anywhere near the Lebanese border, and certainly no camels either. So what gives?

What Byrnes' in his review calls "an accident" is clarified in Bunbury's: "One of their number panics and shoots an entire car of young Palestinians. The solution presents itself: bury the car, including the bodies, in the ever-present mud." Which only leads to further confusion. Who are these mysterious Palestinian youths (over whom, it seems, no tears are shed)? If the checkpoint is "near the Lebanese border," then it's got to be in the Galilee, and the "young Palestinians" would therefore be Israeli citizens. If, on the other hand, they're Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, then all I can say is they're a bloody long way from home.

More confusion arises from the Israeli response to the gunning down of the Palestinians. As anyone familiar with the modus operandi followed by Israeli troops when they murder Palestinians will know, the invariable practice is simply to blame the victims, stick doggedly to the concocted story, and be hailed as heroes by the vast majority of Israelis. Burying the evidence with the help of a bulldozer that just happens to be nearby? I don't think so.

But Maoz, the film's director has an explanation. Bunbury quotes him as saying, "You don't have to be a genius to understand that there is not such a specific roadblock, not such a specific reality."

And you don't have to be a genius to understand that Maoz, quoted elsewhere in the review referring to Israel "a pathetic and anxious society with the distorted perception that comes out of a terrible past trauma," is playing the Holocaust card, a move designed to get Israel off the hook for its crimes against the Palestinians.

I'll let the Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy have the final say on this phony film:

"The film unit of the Israel Defense Forces spokesman's office would not have dared produce such a pro-Israeli and pro-army film like Foxtrot; they would have known that nobody would believe them. Neither could the unit have produced such an aesthetic film - poetic, symbolic and metaphorical. Nor is there a ship of fools that would accept such a demented level of ignorant assaults on the film by the culture minister without having seen it, she might not have realized what a PR treasure it is.

"Her colleague, a general in the war against the boycott, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also information minister, should have instructed his ministry to immediately distribute the film worldwide as part of his battle. There's nothing like Foxtrot for beautifying the image of the state. Look how beautiful we are, we Israelis. What great cinema we have, what beautiful homes we live in and how beautiful are our Holocaust survivors; even our much maligned checkpoints are so beautiful.

"Sanuel Maoz made a beautiful film - and a deceptive, misleading film. The last thing it deserves is to be decried as harming the state. Its foxtrot is dirty dancing. Maoz says that the film is a metaphor for universal questions about fatalism, choice, fate and the individual's ability to shape his future. Those are worthy and fascinating subjects. Maoz could have dealt with them by means of a story line about a wrong diagnosis of cancer, a critical date that a couple never went on, or someone who was fatally late for a flight. Instead, he chose to focus the debate in the context of the Israeli occupation. And so he shouldn't play dumb and claim that this is an artistic and imaginary film, without context or obligation to reality and truth. The moment he chose the occupation as the arena for his film, he turned it into a political and current events film. Not only is that not the way to dance the foxtrot, as Maoz discovered too late, this is not the way the occupation looks - in fact, there's no resemblance at all.

"Beautifying the occupation is no less grave than tarnishing its image. Calling Israeli soldiers is a terrible thing, but presenting them at checkpoints the way Naomi Shemer described the soldiers in her iconic 1968 song At the Nahal Outpost, where she saw 'lots of beautiful things,' as well as 'small poetry books on shelves' - that was no less grave. A lie is a lie, no matter what direction it takes. There aren't lots of beautiful things at a checkpoint. Not even one. Maoz decided to embellish it. He has the artistic right to describe reality as he sees it, but he can't ignore the implications of his hallucinations. When an IDF checkpoint looks like a beautiful surrealistic scene in an old-time Italian movie - maybe they'll believe it in Venice. Here it's not possible. There are no beautiful checkpoints like that, with a camel passing silently by and an ice-cream truck with a blond girl painted on it.

"Neither can he shirk responsibility for the message or for the fact that the Palestinians are momentary extras, and even in that context, their depiction is so different from the reality. In Foxtrot, they ride in a collector's Chevy, with Israeli license plates, wearing their finery, on the way to a wedding or back from a party, erupting in wild joyful song.

"There aren't a lot of apartments designed like the one where Yonatan's parents live and there are no soldiers who sit at checkpoints drawing comics in their many hours of free time and checking the incline of the packing container, which is a metaphor for the extent of being stuck in the mud.

"The soldiers at the checkpoints simply don't look like that. They don't throw sorrowful looks and they're mainly busy with brutality, not comics. Most of them didn't grow up in House Beautiful apartments belonging to handsome architects who married their students; the ones that did go to the elite 8200 intelligence unit. They can be shown anyway one wants, but when an Israeli director with political awareness does that, he's making propaganda, not cinema.

"It's not the 'scene' that everyone is talking about that makes this film infuriating. Not the killing by IDF soldiers and not the concealing of evidence that followed. Foxtrot is trying to conceal something else entirely: It's trying to conceal the ugliness." (A beautiful film about the occupation, 1/10/17)

1 comment:

Grappler said...

Off topic, MERC, but here is the top headline on the ABC website now:

Note the get-out adjective "corporate". Twelve is tiny by comparison with Israeli rambamming, but of course not a murmur on the ABC about that.