Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall
“Movie” involves change of some sort. Chronologically even if non-sequentially, i.e., via flashbacks or –forwards, or causally, there is plot development; or perhaps it occurs within the characters, who evolve and whose opinions shift, or in new revelations about people and events that in themselves are static. Home movies may be cute but are not what one cares to sit through; nor are tourists’ camcordings of trips. Nor is Wall/Mur, television documentarian Simone Bitton’s ninety-eight-minute first feature.
Out of the ordinary in that many of the Hebrew and Arabic voices, including the director’s, come facelessly offscreen, from alongside or behind the video camera (blown to 1.85), this is intended as “cinematic meditation.” The obviously outraged consideration is in a strong sense about space, in hilly towns and landscapes sunbleached of color (against which the white subtitles are difficult) under a greyish-blue sky. More, it is about the enclosure of space, compartmentalization, separation, exclusion, and the resultant resignation or fear and mistrust. Growing out of an evening news item, it tracks the construction, physicality and debatable effects of a Middle East version of East Berlin’s experiment, in this case a concrete, iron and barbed wire “ultimate solution” -- ironic echo of Nazism’s “final” one -- to Israel’s problems with Palestinian terrorism (and car theft).
Too much footage consists of cameraman Jacques Bouquin’s slow pans -- no vertical tilts or performer tracking -- along sections of the long wall, which, like China’s, is not yet all-inclusively continuous and in places is anti-vehicle ditch, trench (to reveal footprints), electronic (for alarms, though more sinister designs come to mind), rolled razor or barbed wire, or the massive slabs craned into place in opening frames. Inviting target for graffitists, painters and muralists -- one mural reproduces vistas of the low-rolling landscape blocked from view -- and inset periodically with round concrete watchtowers, the whole is as medieval as any in the Old World, St. Teresa’s Avila, for example, or Saint-Malo.
Slabs and towers are prefab, and there is unstated filmmaker irony in an interview with the overseer who makes them and points to “sophisticated” improvements over twenty-five years, of 360º gunner visibility, of spiral staircases and water supplies for hygiene. Chilling more than ironic, because orchestrated by the Ministry of Defense to an austerity beyond minimalism in setting and tone, are the several sections with director of defense, General Amos Yaron, so coldly sure of the rightness, and righteousness, of the project that he himself seems a mere articulated extension of the wall.
To the noises of colorful Tonka toy earthmovers and other heavy equipment, less frequently to holy song, are the words of citizens and residents on either side -- indeed, one is unsure which physical side of the wall is being shown. Construction workers are usually Palestinians, who need work and say they are not eligible for unemployment benefits; farmers whose crops are ruined and who fear eventual expropriation; male and female dayworkers who climb or circumvent the barrier between helicopter flyovers; neighbors who observe from their balconies, people going through armed checkpoints; ordinary Israelis and Arabs who stress the need for dialogue, for a coming together instead of a fencing apart. And, wordlessly, an armed flak-jacketed soldier on the alert at Rachel’s Tomb, while an array of passengers disembarks behind him between shadowed green bus and sun-drenched precinct wall.
Born fifty years ago in Morocco, raised there and in Jerusalem, now dividing time between the latter city and Paris, Bitton claims three countries, languages and cultures, and her overview is sane and humane, above the insanity that is politics. But her valid point made early, and often, Wall has nowhere to go except in one-shot-sequence circles. Whether in Warhol put-on or in deadly serious Jerusalem, one can look only so long at a wall, and the film should have ended after an hour. It does not hold up against Divine Intervention and Rana’s Wedding, both mordantly black humored on this same theme, the former a picaresque mosaic, the latter traditionally linear; with little dialogue, these two, from Elia Suleiman and Hany Abu-Assad, respectively, picture the same humanly caused madness but are more viewer-effective in dramatizing effects on characters’ daily lives as opposed to commenting. Story, after all, works better than disembodied lecture.
(Released by Lifesize Entertainment; not rated by MPAA. Opens at the Quad Cinema in NYC on August 26, 2005.)