Sunday, March 09, 2014

"Bethlehem": an Israeli agent tries to gain the trust of a Palestinian "youth", leading to tragedy

Yuval Adler’s “Bethlehem”, also from Adopt Films, comes across as a companion to “Omar” (February 22), although this film, purported to be from “the opposing viewpoint” (Israeli) is shorter and not as filled with plot twists. 
Razi (Tsahi Halevi) is a handsome, thirty-something Israeli intelligence agent who has cultivated the confidence of a Palestinian Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), about 20, trying to prevent future suicide attacks from parties associated with the boy’s family.  The family gradually becomes suspicious, as one of their elders is killed and the Israeli’s want to level their home, leaving them homeless and in debt.  That process has been well documented with the work of George Meek (see International blog, May 20, 2013).  The boy is conflicted, but in part hopes Razi can give him a new life in Israel. 

Personally, I abhor all the impulses toward family loyalty and obedience to elders, regardless of the larger morality of their purposes as a group.  Men are supposed to function in this matrix, protecting women and children and their biological future. 

The film builds up to this.  In one raid, Razi is wounded, with a collapsed lung, but recovers quickly with no real ill effects.  He is always assertive and talks fast, and is fluent in Arabic.   (The film bounces between Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.)  What is the nature of the relationship between Razi (married with his own kids) and the boy?  It seemed to me that there was at least a pinch of homoeroticism. The camera, with lots of closeups (in standard aspect ratio) teases us with trappings of masculinity (although the chain cigarette smoking is a distraction).  Unlike the case with Omar, there is no competing love story. It's interesting that the boy has a code name of "Esau", 
The film works toward a tragic climax, perhaps more Shakespearian than Hitchcock-like.  Sanfur is challenged by his family to martyr himself.  It sounds unbelievable, that fathers would expect this of their sons.  Maybe it is an overexaggeration.  The conclusion shows both hyperviolence and affection. Oscar Wilde once wrote, "A man kills the thing he loves."  
Like “Omar”, the film gives as a close-up look at urban life on the West Bank.  We feel like we are really there for 99 minutes. Some of the film is shot in Jerusalem. 
I saw this film on a Sunday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, before a fair crowd.  (The crowd at “Omar” had been more Islamic in appearance than for this film.)  Saturday afternoon the director appeared for a QA, but I missed that.    
Back in 2001, I had seen a film at the University of Minnesota Bell Auditorium, “Bethlehem Diary”, by Antonio Caccia, showing daily life in the town before an intifada. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Bethlehem wide shot here.

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