ScreenSavour: Through a lens fairly
Jul 18 2014
Political films often tend to take sides in a conflict, but Lebanon-A Soldier’s Journey and Munich zoom in on the Isarel-Palestine issue in a non-partisan prism
The latest Israeli strikes across specific targets in Gaza across the border, which by now have claimed more than 200 civilian lives, including women and children, show no signs of decline, despite calls of ceasefire brokered by Egypt so that UN aid agencies could reach food to the affected civilians. As Hamas continues to retaliate by striking back into Israeli territory, Israel has already ordered Palestinians in Gaza to vacate the territories across the border in preparation for ground invasion.
This is not the first time such a conflict is happening, and unfortunately, will not be the last time. Concerned artistes and filmmakers from both sides of the border have responded to the clash periodically by engaging in their craft, raising questions and trying to understand the problems that beset the most disputed land in the world. Two films that immediately come to mind are Steven Spielberg’s Munich, and Lebanon — A Soldier’s Journey, a film from Israel.
Based on true events following the Munich Olympic massacre in 1972 where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organisation, Spielberg’s Munich (2006) follows the Israeli retaliation by a secret Mossad unit which is sent to Europe to track down and kill the 10 Palestinian leaders who had planned the chilling operation. Infused with a sense of Zionist nationalism and craving for revenge, the team carries out its top-secret mission with the ruthlessness and precision that Mossad has always been famous for.
But unlike a regular big-budget Hollywood studio film, Munich is not an outright revenge tale that takes glory in the defeat of its enemies. Spielberg, a non-practicing jew is matured enough to examine the absurdity of the operation that begins to claim the lives of its protagonists one by one, as the Palestinians begin to retaliate, till a point comes when the team leader —played brilliantly by Eric Bana — starts questioning the purpose of the whole mission. Unlike a blockbuster avenging hero, he becomes paranoid, fearing for his own life and his family’s safety, quits Israel and settles down in Brooklyn, a scarred and disillusioned soul riddled with internal conflicts and doubts. A film that set about being critical of Palestine, turns it gaze towards the state of Israel and takes a hardened stand against its ruthless ways.
Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon — A Soldier’s Journey (2009) is an Israeli anti-war film set against the 1982 Lebanon War. It depicts the warfare as witnessed exclusively from the inside of a battle tank by four young Israeli soldiers who have been ordered to clear a hostile Lebanese town by using phosphorus grenades forbidden by an international treaty. The battle-ravaged landscape is seen through the gun-sight from inside the tank, obviously a set — a virtuoso piece of art direction.
A cinematic tour de force, the film lays bare the horrors of a meaningless war as the four soldiers cope with the deteriorating state of the tank, heat, smoke, filth, stench, cramped quarters, equipment failure, navigational problems and conflicting information that claims innocent lives. To complicate matters, there is also the body of a dead Israeli soldier, a Syrian prisoner of war, a visiting higher officer, and a pro-Israeli Lebanese christian who threatens the POW with torture and gruesome death.
The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2009 against 24 other entries, and caused controversy in its own country for its critical stance against the Israel-Arab conflict.
In India, most attempts at political films, instead of looking at both sides of a conflict unequivocally, tend to be partisan. Is it a lack of mature political understanding, a misplaced sense of patriotism, or fear of censorship that prevents our directors from going the whole hog out?
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)