Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:05 pm 
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OFRA BLOCH IN AFTERWARD

An Israeli tries to see the world through German and Palestinian eyes

Jerusalem-born Ofra Bloch is a woman of a certain age who has made a film, her first, about Jews, Germans, and Palestinians, seeking a viewpoint not granted her growing up. Sometimes it feels as if she is doing this only for herself, since the basic material is familiar, and like Michael Moore she injects herself into nearly every frame. A certain excess of self-confidence is evidenced in the way this film flits from one subject to another. However, her heart is undoubtedly in the right place, and at times she scores a telling point.

An example is when she describes being taught as a child the myth that when the Jews came to settle what is now Israel, there was hardly anybody there - only a few Arabs who "ran away from fear." "Only later," she admits, "I understood that when the Jews began their new lives on that land, some 700,000 Palestinians were forced to emigrate and become refugees and were not allowed to return to their homes." This is an essential truth about Israelis and Jews that we don't hear repeated often enough, though everyone versed in the subject has to know it.

The title, Afterward, grows out of Bloch's desire, as a psychiatrist, to explore the way the trauma of oppression is transmitted from generation to generation. This theme hovers, at best, only in the background. How relevant is it, for instance, to the case of the reformed German neo-Nazi (who has written a book)? Or was he exploring a different kind of memory?

Any of these topics would deserve a film unto itself. Bloch talks to Germans, and realizes many of them have been hampered from coming to terms with guilt over the Nazi era and Holocaust because when they grew up these subjects were taboo.

Particularly useful for Americans will be hearing direct from a Palestinian the meaning of the word "Nakba." This Arabic word for "catastrophe' is used by Palestinians to refer to the Jews' establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. "They call it 'independence,' we call it 'Nakba,'" her informant says, speaking in English. Bloch learns from a young Palestinian woman activist - and fellow psychologist - that the Nakba is "a repetitive experience," still going on today, when Palestinian homes are continually being destroyed by the Israelis. Raneen, an Israeli woman activist (people are identified only by their first names), explains to Bloch how whole Palestinian villages were turned into parks or "national reserves" by the Zionist settlers. Destroying and filling in, Raneen says, speaking in Hebrew, is "a very violent and colonial act."

Why at this point does Bloch shift to "Johanna," a writer in Berlin, talking about her father (in English again)? Johanna talks about the Nazi Party's domination of the lives of her forebears, atrocities done to the Jews on the way to concentration camps. She describes her unwillingness to hear her father tell of his hardships in being returned from the Russian front in cattle cars, knowing the use the Germans made of cattle cars with the Jews. This leads Block to remember that Adolf Eichmann was put on trial when she was young in a building right across the street from where she grew up - a trial celebrated as a ceremonial national ritual, she explains, broadcast in the streets on loudspeakers or listened to by people (seen and heard in archival footage) "glued to their transistors."

Again, these are all subjects worthy of a film unto themselves, which they have gotten.

We hear quickly from Horst (Hoheisel), an artist based in Poland, who speaks of reminding people of the Holocaust through his art pieces. These include his symbolic inverted restoration of the Jewish-designed Aschrott Fountain in Kassel, formerly destroyed by the Nazis. This has led to death threats against Hoheisel from neo-Nazis. This leads Bloch to recall her mother singing songs of war. It was very obvious to her the enemy celebrated in them was the Arabs, whom she was taught to fear and hate.

Now, Bloch visits Israel/Palestine (she lives in the US now) and shows the militarism and latent violence, such as the use of Israeli soldiers armed with rifles as "police' on the street of Arab towns like Hebron, where one such soldier shot a wounded Arab "terrorist" in the head when he was lying on the ground, and killed him. The soldier was charged, then Israelis demonstrated supporting him, with shouts that "every terrorist should get a bullet in the head." (One may add that Israelis label most Palestinians "terrorists," and not a few of them, as the country shifts far to the right, would like to shoot all Palestinians. But Bloch doesn't delve into such Israeli extremism.)

She now shifts to how as a child she learned the Holocaust as ABC's, A for Auschwitz, B for Buchenwald, C for the crematoriums, D for death march. Really? In English? I wonder. Next: "Thomas," a Frankfort history professor (speaking in English) talks about his SS officer father's obsession with machismo and discipline.

Back in Israel again, Bosch talks to Basel, a young Palestinian photographer (who speaks excellent English), who tells her he cannot imagine Netanyahu as human, given his responsibility for the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. (She calls this "the Israeli Gaza War," an odd term for such an unbalanced conflict: Noam Chomsky has said the Israelis call these periodic assaults on the territories "mowing the lawn"). Again this appears a matter of personal healing, because she questions whether her never visiting the West Bank or Gaza was an "act of protest" as she told herself, but just a good way of not thinking about it. Bosch now takes on another subject that would better be the subject of an entire feature: the Occupation.

Bosh now becomes a more active documentarian, covering a demo and encounters between Palestinians and Israel army "police" on the ground and attempting and in part achieving dialogue with them both. (The IDF people will talk only though a "mediator," who isn't there.) The Palestinian woman shrink-activist talks about non-violent resistance, and how the international community impedes it, with calling the BDS movement "antisemitic." (Maybe Nicki Haley, Trump-appointed UN Ambassador, seen briefly here, has forgotten that Arabs are Semites too.) Bosch talks to her Palestinian activist informants (who are good ones). She shows how the annual two-minute siren wail commemorating Holocaust memorial day causes everyone in Israel to stop reverently everywhere, even cars on the street. Meanwhile settlers encroach on the Hebron market, and they have guards protecting them, while they throw stones.

Bosh talks to Mohamed Dajani, the Palestinian professor at Jerusalem's Al-Quds University who took his class to Auschwitz to teach them about the Holocaust, and the subsequent furor forced him to resign. He has no regrets; his effort to break through the barrier of mutual brainwashing of Arabs and Israelis felt essential.

This film has wandered, but it finally moves toward a kind of "truth and reconciliation" moment, as Bosch's honest conversations with Palestinians begin to sink in - even if the process may be an impossible one, not achievable in any one lifetime.

Afterward, 119 mins., debuted at DOC NYC in Nov. 2018. Eight other festivals, through 2019. It opened theatrically Jan. 10, 2020; digitally and on demand, Jan. 28. Metascore: 62%.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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