By suggesting the unsayable—that Israel's founding myths are all about suicide—Avi Mograbi has produced one of the great essayistic films of modern timesby Mark Cousins / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
Israel has not produced a single master filmmaker—no Leone, no Bergman, no Hitchcock. When I was writing my book The Story of Film, I wanted to include Israeli films but ended up deciding not to, just as I didn’t write about movies from my native Ireland. Neither country had contributed enough.
Over the years I’d seen decent Israeli movies about the class conflict between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, about generational conflict and identity crisis. I had liked films by Assi Dayan and, in particular, veteran documentarist Amos Gitai. Many of cinema’s great directors—Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Abraham Polonsky, Steven Spielberg—have been Jewish. But not Israeli.
Why this underachievement? First, Israel is young and small. Second, its arts ministry does not seem to value film—just 5 per cent of the culture budget was allocated to this most expensive of arts in 1995. Third, the non-emergence of a Leone or Hitchcock means that talented young Israelis have had no significant role models. Lastly, perhaps, Israeli filmmakers have been hampered by feeling the insecure, harried weight of their country on their backs.
The recent Israeli film Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, just released on DVD, shoulders such national burdens, and if I were writing my book now I would include it and its writer-director-editor Avi Mograbi. Like many of the best middle eastern films, it is a documentary—its director’s fifth. And like many such films, it is fuelled by a sense that Israel is committing a crime against Palestine. Avenge But One of My Two Eyes starts on a chilly dawn on the bleak mountain of Masada and unfolds into a brilliant cinematic essay about the causes of moral blindness.
Some scenes are familiar. A Palestinian deliveryman tries to enter a controlled zone and is forced to talk up to a watchtower; a sick woman’s relatives plead with Israeli soldiers in a tank who talk back to them through a loudspeaker. Mograbi and his cameraman are alert to the absurdity of such conversations, and use them to establish the mode of the whole film. A recurring scene is Mograbi himself, late at night, at home with the television switched on, talking on the phone to his Palestinian friend, who for security reasons is revoiced by actor Shredi Jabarin. Their conversations have none of the urgency of those of the deliveryman or the sick woman’s relatives, yet are compelling. The friend…