Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2022 1:16 pm 
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Through footage he shot with video camera, an Israeli reexamines participating in house invasions as a soldier 20 years ago

Eighteen years later, Eran Paz finds a box of videotapes with footage he took of his squad in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 when he was doing military service, and is horrified at the callousness of their behavior. Viewers may remember the 2008 (NYFF) film Waltz with Bashir about an Israeli solider who has difficulty remembering his part in a 1982 massacre.

This meandering film depicts Eran Paz (which in Hebrew means "gold," in Spanish of course "peace") after he finds the tapes. He goes to a place where specialists can play them and gets them digitalized, and a still image made of a Palestinian family of a dozen or more crowded by his unit into a single room in their house after breaking into it using a large axe. On such occasions they often took the adult men out, he says.

Paz is an artist and sets out to paint this crowded scene. He also reunites with some fellow soldiers and paints their portraits, interviewing them after showing them the tapes (or excerpts from them) on his smartphone. The first fellow unit member says that time was "fun" and an "adventure" (using the English word). He says he doesn't remember why they were there. Another fellow soldier says he now is "working with the Bedouin," which he thinks will be good for his daughter. He hopes he will be able to show Paz's footage to his children. He says he knows quite well why they were there, serving as a basic combat unit, and recalls that there were several serious casualties.

As other footage from the old films appears, the dialogue of the men on tape shows they regard basically all the Palestinians they encounter, the males particularly, as "f-ing terrorists," and a pregnant woman big with child as about to give birth to a "f-ing terrorist," and so one wonders, aloud why they are being "nice" to her by offering her water. They are part of a unit occupying the Palestinian town of Tulkarm.

At another moment we see footage of the unit hungrily eating while reports of casualties and calls for a doctor come over their radio. A third, big dark haired fellow vet Paz speaks to seems to have no memory about and no ability to articulate what happened. "It was, like, boom," he says. Maybe it's repressed, he admits.

A notable sequence is of the rave, in a room draped all around with ornate flowing pink floor-to-ceiling curtains. Two men looking into a big round mirror, and one says: "This is your photographer (Paz). And it may be the last time you see him alive, because he has taken a serious amount of LSD." The Palestinian family has been locked up in the next room. Someone says to lower the sound in case an officer comes, but the wildness continues. Later they speak, now, of being in a trance-like state at this time, an escape from the reality of where they are and what they are doing. One ex-soldier says he hated going into the houses. Why they did this, what was going on overall during this "operation" is never mentioned in Paz's film.

As the present time interviews, as Paz paints several fellow soldiers' portraits, intercutting these with sometimes very logically connected excerpts from the old footage, he begins to work on the idea of going back to a family they invaded and apologize to them. But he doesn't know Arabic (probably all Arabic know "sorry," but perhaps he doesn't know that. He looks up how to say it and finds "ana asifan" on Google.

Despite the misgivings of his wife and her concern for their three young children Paz goes to see the man in the foreground of the picture of the many people whose house his unit invaded. The house has been located and the man contacted. Paz goes to see the man with another man, whose face we are not allowed to see, understandably given on the way we see a sign that declares in Hebrew, Arabic, and English that they are entering territory belonging to the Palestinian Authority and to continue is "forbidden, dangerous, and illegal" for Israelis to come here.

The meeting is awkward, but moving. Paz speaks little English, and the man he visits may understand it but does not speak it, only Arabic; also, Paz, perhaps not the mensch he would like to be, lacks the courage at this moment to say exactly who he is, and only apologizes later on the phone. Here, he offers a gift of food, and they eat lunch together, with large spoons. The neighborhood is very crowded and poor. This is the same house, they see the same room, Paz shows the man the same photo. On the phone later, the man says, in Arabic, "I forgive you, I forgive you." Pretty elemental, powerful stuff. All of this is good raw material, some of it shocking and devastating in different ways. But there could be more perspective. Perhaps, as in Ari Folman's more detached and contemplative Waltz with Bachir, the years since the fighting by these then very young Israeli soldiers have been a time of forgetting, not contemplation. Jewish Film Review asks whether, "in the absence of anything else, might some view [Paz's] apology as hollow and his film uncomfortably self serving?" Certainly, this is only a beginning.

His Linkedin entry describes Eran Paz as "An award-winning documentary cinematographer with an open, wild and adventurous mind." It says he was "Awarded best director in the Jerusalem Festival for [his] film Jeremiah, and received praise and awards from around the world for [his] film And I Was There which aired on 'Yes'."

And I Was There,64 mins., Jan. 13, 2020 on yes docu at Dokaviv and was screened for this review as part of the 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Monday August 1, 2022
12:01 a.m.
JFI Digital Screening Room


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