Dominique Dubosc (dir), 'Palestine, Palestine'

IssueSeptember - November 2002
Review by Sarah Irving

Palestine, Palestine is an unusual creature, a film about this beautiful and terrible land which shows something of everyday life in the West Bank.

It is not a documentary as such, although it deals with real people and their day-to-day existence. It has more life and lyricism than that. But it is also grounded in reality and makes inescapable the way that the Israeli presence is not just a matter of the brutal incursions which hit the Western news but a daily challenge to the ingenuity and dignity of a people under occupation by a foreign power.

After a brief factual introduction, the film is divided into three parts. The first and third deal with Nidal and Mysoun, puppeteers who deliver a kind of political Punch and Judy to school kids throughout the West Bank. The film follows them around, through checkpoints and over roadblocks. The shows they give reflect the realities of Palestinian life; an old man is killed by soldiers at a checkpoint, and Nidal's overnight disappearance north of Ramallah inspires the creation of a quite terrifying puppet, a dark cloaked figure with a single interrogatory light glaring out of the centre of his forehead.

The middle third of the film has a much more impressionistic, broadbrushed feel, showing scenes of daily life in the Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Second Intifada (winter 2000/2001). It presents teenagers learning to use computers in the Ibda'a cultural centre, and the minutiae of camp life, whether the potterings of Khaled, a Bethlehem TV cameraman and general city character, or men at night watching the bangs and flashes of an Israeli incursion into Beit Jala on the other side of the valley.

All this is beautifully filmed and edited, often making the film almost hypnotic in its dreamlike linkage of sequences. However, in some ways it is also strangely ambivalent, presenting short periods of individuals' existence so that they are brought vividly to life but are also lacking in context.

I found the film profoundly moving - but to what extent was that because I've seen Deheishe, and the roads that Nidal and Mysore drove down, and because the firefights across Beit Jala were filmed from a similar position to the window that I watched similar firefights from a year later? And some of my fellow viewers, in the discussion following a showing at a Newcastle Palestinian film festival, seemed disturbed by the anger and bitterness in much of the puppetry; was it healthy, they asked, to reinforce divisions by showing such unrelentingly negative views of Palestinian-Israeli relations? But these kids live that anger and oppression daily, and perhaps to deal with such issues in the open and with humour can create a space for discussion and for them to deal with the situation they must grow up in. Such moral decisions must be made by the individual viewer, but while this film provides gorgeously-shot food for thought on these issues, the context and framework for that debate must be sought elsewhere.

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