BRICK BY BRICK
I was on the international jury this year at Toronto’s Hot Docs, and one of the best and most original docs I saw there, Simone Bittan’s Wall, is receiving its U.S. premiere this Friday at the Quad in New York.
Paris-based Bittan, who is both an Israeli and French citizen, was born in Morocco and considers herself an Arab Jew. Employing her hybrid identity as something of a structuring device, Wall documents the construction of the “security fence” that is separating Israel from Palestine, creating a portrait not only of a region divided but of a world in which the modern military industrial complex is physically altering traditional ideas of land and freedom.
In addition to the film’s menacing formal beauty — its gorgeous shots of a Middle Eastern landscape bisected by crane-lowered blocks of grey concrete — it contains a sophisticated montage that cleverly overlays comments by both Israelis and Palestinians affected by the wall over shots of the wall’s construction without identifying the nationality of the speakers. At Hot Docs some I talked to were irritated by this device and would have preferred tidy lower thirds ID’ing the dialogues for easy political positioning. It’s part of the film’s genius that it doesn’t do this, forcing the viewer to relate first to these residents on the most basic human levels.
Explains Bittan, “I’ve been traveling in Palestine and Israel for over 20 years and I have never encountered so much cruelty and madness as today. The wall is not only a slap in the face of those of us who want peace, not only a crime against one of the most beautiful and historically meaningful landscapes in the world. For Palestinians, it is a mechanism of ongoing dispossession and expulsion. As far as Israelis are concerned, it is terrible to see how these people, my people, who have crossed the seas to escape the ghettos, are enclosing themselves willingly and consensually. One of the characters of the film expresses this very well: “We love this land so much, that we enclose it.” Another says that the Holy Land has been taken by the devil. It is exactly my feeling, even though I don’t believe in God nor in the devil.”