31 May 2014 | robert-temple-1
The struggle seen from the inside
This amazingly informative Israeli film is called BETHLEHEM because most of the action takes place there, in the present day. Bethlehem is an entirely Arab town. The film is very dramatically powerful and well-made, even though it is only the first feature film directed by Yuval Adler (whoever he is, as no biographical information or date of birth is recorded for him on IMDb). I read something about this film in a newspaper and ordered the DVD, the cover of which is entirely in Hebrew. It is difficult to access the English subtitles because you have to read Hebrew to know where to click. However, I discovered on my second try that you click on the second Hebrew word at the bottom to get them. The DVD was certainly not manufactured with an English-speaking audience even remotely in mind. I noticed that the end credits were in both Hebrew and Arabic. I gather from indications on the box that this film has won awards at several film festivals including Venice and Telluride. It well deserves them. It is an astonishing inside glimpse of the conflicts going on in Palestine today. The story is essentially an emotional one, about the relationship between an Israeli man who is a security agent named Razi (played excellently by Tsahi Halevi, who has apparently never acted in a film before), and a young Arab Israeli boy called Sanfur played by Shadi Mar'i, who does a brilliant job in an extremely difficult and complex part. Razi has recruited Sanfur as an informant because his older brother is a ruthless terrorist named Ibrahim, who sets off bombs and kills civilians in terror attacks inside Israel. Razi and Sanfur have a strong emotional bond, and Razi saves Sanfur's life by hinting that he should go to see his aunt in Hebron suddenly, as he knows that a security operation is about to take place in which Sanfur may be killed. Sanfur follows his advice and is spared. Sanfur is alienated from his stiff and formal father and accepts Razi as a father figure, and Razi is becoming dangerously attached to Sanfur, thus putting his own life in peril. The main action of the film concerns the struggles between the two conflicting Palestinian factions of the more extreme Hamas, and the less extreme supporters of 'the Palestinian Authority'. Ibrahim is supposed to be a leading militia commander of the latter, but he has secretly been recruited by Hamas and is taking their money without telling his comrades, with Sanfur as the intermediary who collects the money from a vegetable seller in the local market and passes it to his brother. From the beginning, we see that Sanfur is a very emotionally volatile and unstable young man, who erupts into rages very easily. The more troubled Sanfur is, the more Razi is tempted to try to help him, as he sees that he has the potential to be a decent person if he gets the right kind of emotional help and support. But meanwhile, Sanfur is becoming increasingly compromised and trapped from two sides. On one side, he is not telling friends, family and comrades that his brother has sold out to Hamas, and on the other side, his friendship with Razi may be revealed because Razi has obtained hospital treatment for him for a gunshot wound, and this may be discovered. Sanfur's father is a passive fanatic who says that only Ibrahim enables him to hold his head up with pride, because he is bombing and killing the hated oppressors, the Jews. Sanfur does not want to bomb or kill anybody, but he is surrounded by killers and rival militias on all sides. The film is a tragic portrayal of how impossible it is for many of the Palestinian Arabs to escape from the vicious cycles of hatred and murder which absorb and monopolize their lives. When they are not trying to kill the Israelis, the rival militias are trying to kill each other, which they do much more often. There is one terrible scene where the vicious and hardened militia leader Badawi, played excellently by Hitham Omari (of whom nothing is recorded on IMDb), is friendly and joking with another Arab militia fighter as they run up a staircase teasing one another, and then when they reach the top, he casually pushes him over the banister to his death, without so much as a moment's hesitation or any qualm. That is how brutalised the lives of these people have become. They simply have to go on killing, killing, killing, without any respite, and often they are killing friends and even their own family members. It is also interesting to see how the Arab 'townies' continually ridicule Badawi for being of Bedouin descent. They insult him by saying his father came in from his desert tent to the town and had not even learned how to wear shoes. I had not realized the Bedouin were held in such low esteem. The many layers of Palestinian Arab society are thus shown in gruesome conflict and strife with one another, and they cannot agree on anything, not even the levels of violence to be inflicted upon the Jews. In view of the fact that the rival factions in Palestine have recently 'made peace' with one another and formed a joint government, one really wonders how on earth such a thing can ever work. Since they seem to hate each other more than they hate the Jews, what future is there for Palestine? It seems to me that murder, treachery, betrayal, and terror can never disappear from this unhappy part of the world. This film helps us see the inside perspectives and personal tragedies and conflicts which are never otherwise clear, no matter how many newspaper articles you read. I am not permitted by IMDb reviewing rules to discuss the ending of the film, so I cannot comment on how the story turns out.