Evolution and everything else selects and rejects according to some end. Akin to Dresden without mentioning Auschwitz, Hiroshima without Nanking, limiting itself to densely populated Gaza, Tears of Gaza/Gasas tårer does not breathe a word about Hamas rocket attacks or the use of non-combatants as shields. Director/writer Vibeke Løkkeberg noting the impossibility of objectivity about the Israeli-Palestinian Gordian knot, her eighty-two minutes captures civilian suffering during and after Israel’s 2008-09 campaign and has been shown and won awards at festivals that include the Jerusalem, Al Ard Palestinian, Aljazeera, Gaza, Abu Dhabi and Toronto.
Publicity opens with Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu’s remark that neutrality in the face of injustice is tantamount to supporting the oppressors and might as easily have instanced Marie Colvin’s seeing her war journalism’s finest moment in the Dili broadcasts from amongst besieged women and children, “awed by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will.” The captious have jumped on TG as one-sided. But the documentary is really about what modern warfare does to those not wearing uniforms regular or irregular. It would extend the particular to the universal, though Tel Aviv’s bad image and worse public relations will add to viewer misinterpretation.
There is no narrative voice, subtitles sufficing for place, time and, on occasion, speaker. It is unfortunate that, notably in the post-Operation Cast Lead sections, footage comes across as posed and that, though off- or onscreen prompting is absent, statements seem not so spontaneous unrehearsed as might have been.
Cynicism about truth in media and about television and cinema’s free and unacknowledged reliance on re-creation might lead to raised eyebrows here, too. The director hopes, however, that “the emotional approach will spur protest [and] contribute to making a better world.”
Israel and Egypt refused entry into Gaza for her and producer-husband Terje Kristiansen and for international press in general during the 2009 bombardment of secret supply tunnels, terrorist/freedom fighters and civilians. Through the offices of a Norwegian countryman, they contacted production crews already within the hundred-forty square miles, with the resultant six months’ shooting material literally smuggled out via Internet and phone.
Filmed at face level, three children emerge as foci -- eleven-year-old Razmia; Yahya, thirteen; and Amira, fourteen, the only one allowed out, for medical attention, and later slipped back in in defiance of prohibitions against returning. They are not the only ones by far to speak of death and the dismemberment or disappearance of the strong family unit; of the disruption and hardships of daily life; of bewilderment, despair, anger.
Framed among the rubble of bombed homes or on collapsing balconies, in panicked streets or makeshift tent camps, even at restrained wedding celebrations or seaside outings, they are the human face of this Goyaesque Disasters of War. Testimonies about the deaths of loved ones, rages against God or godless adversaries, shrieks and sobs and sirens are backgrounded by the whines of incoming rockets and explosions that leave enveloping columns of grey-black smoke, burning lumps of white phosphorus, mangled buildings and bodies.
Most awful in this primarily visual medium are the understandably shaky first three-quarters of charred children dug out and exhibited aloft and of rescue and hospital teams overwhelmed with the wounded and dying while relatives sink in pain, sorrow and tears of Gaza.
Such explicit documentarianism as advocacy journalism is a difficult watch. That is the purpose, to make viewers uncomfortable enough to take action instead of tuning out. Given the world as is, the film cannot be disengaged from politics, a finger is pointed, and that finger will divide opinion about Tears of Gaza. Different opposing sides are needed to stir the hell that is war. But in the final body count, this “Blowin’ in the Wind” reiteration will be judged less by cinema criteria than political.