Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bethlehem

This was the last of the five foreign-language films nominated for the Oscar, and the last entry we actually saw before the Oscars (not counting the animated shorts). The category was tight this year, way moreso than the English language pictures, with The HuntThe Great BeautyBroken Circle Breakdown and The Missing Picture, all films with greatness in them.

Then there's the Palestinian entry, Omar.

The Boy emerged from the theater saying, "Boy, Palestinians are dicks!" Perhaps not surprisingly, that is the common thread running through Palestinian movies (and Israeli movies sympathetic to Palestinians). I don't think it's deliberate: I just think when your defining philosophy sanctifies the wanton destruction of innocents, well, you are a dick and there's no hiding that.

Omar is thematically similar to Bethlehem, which I would swear we'd seen first though the movie listings seem to suggest the former stopped playing the day before the latter started, and which I also realize now I forgot to review. (I get behind, as you know.)

And now, having written this review, I realize that I have the two reversed. This is a review of Bethlehem.

Anyway, the story is that of a young Palestinian (not named "Omar") whose older brother is a bigwig in a Palestinian, uh, "activist" group who was recruited at a young age by an Israeli agent (Shin Bet?) in the hopes that he would ultimately lead to his older brother, and maybe even serve as a mole inside the more "active" groups when he grew up.

I'm no Jim Bond, but it seemed...dubious to me that the Israelis were going to capture or kill this kid's brother and then have him be gung ho about continuing to work for them.

Super-spy logic often escapes me.

Anyway, like the other Palestinian movies we've seen, it's really very good except we lack whatever it is that makes it possible for one to say "Oh, yes, I can see why you'd blow yourself and other random people up for that." The anti-Israeli squad is out in force, as usual, talking about how this movie shows the crafty Jew manipulation of the Palestinian people which, as far as it goes, is true enough.

The Israelis totally make the Palestinians their bitches. Heh. They know so much about what's going on, they have so many moles, and such good surveillance, the terrorists are in a constant state of paranoia. If they're not actually ratting each other out, they're killing each other because they think they're ratting each other out.

It's plausible that this is supposed to engender sympathy for them, but it doesn't. At least not in me. To suggest that there's something wrong with this is to suggest that Israel shouldn't defend itself. (The point, of course.) "Mind games with terrorists" doesn't even rank next to "blowing up cafés".

Terrorist logic also often escapes me.

Anyway, it's a plausible and interesting film, up to the end where, much like Omar, it strains credulity. Although Bethlehem is much better in that regard, because it at least sets up the Shin Bet agent to have the necessary characteristics to do the really stupid thing the plot requires.

Like I said, it's good, but I can't really recommend it. I'll review Omar next, though it's way ickier and the Palestinians are even worse—and it's actually Palestinian (Bethlehem is Israeli).

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