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Tuesday Sept. 14, 2010 8:50 AM (EST+7)
Film 'Tears of Gaza' raises debate over politics of suffering

Read more: film, Gaza War, War on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian casualty, Gaza strip

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Tears of Gaza raises the question: can any filmmaker do a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without antagonizing someone?

Vibeke Lokkeberg's film deals with the 2008 to 2009 bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military. Her strategy is to focus on the horrific impact this has on civilians, and mostly children and women at that. In other words, how war affects the innocent. Lokkeberg, a Norwegian actress, author and filmmaker, has scrubbed away all context, political or otherwise. This could be any war descended on an urban population.

Soldiers expect death and destruction; they've trained for it. Civilians don't know how to react to dead children and bombed homes. Where can I get forgiveness from? moans a man who has lost a child.

Tears of Gaza is gut wrenching to watch -- perhaps the ultimate anti-war film -- but will the word Gaza in the title stop people? Films, whether docs or features, don't generally talk about war from this perspective. Now we have a film that does, but Middle Eastern politics may contaminate it. The Arab world may embrace the film, especially coming from a Westerner, and Israel and its supporters may shun it. So a compelling film about war will not be as widely seen, as it should.

The film opens in Norway theatrically in November and could get play dates elsewhere in Europe but in North America it will undoubtedly play only festivals. The response at those festivals will be interesting to watch.

On one hand, the film is pretty rough and disorganized, like war itself. Lokkeberg says she wants to view war through the stories of three young people but these stories swiftly get lost. A little Palestinian boy stands at the seashore, recalling past visits to the beach with his father, now dead, murdered as he puts it. Tears come to him. He says he wants to become a doctor so he can treat those injured by the Israelis. Two other girls tell of their tragedies and injuries too, but the film keeps cutting to footage shot by several Palestinian cameramen during the bombings.

After years of deprivation and economic embargo, Gaza clearly lacks the infrastructure and resources to deal with the carnage. Instead neighbours bravely rush to fallen buildings emitting fire and smoke to rescue helpless victims. A pathetic hose makes do as few fire trucks exist. Broken and dead bodies are pulled from rubble. Children emerge with mangled limbs or holes in their heads. Sobbing women clutch their faces and beat their sides. Cars are found to transport the wounded to overwhelmed hospitals. Phosphorous bombs shower people with tiny blobs of fire that ignite flesh.

A father cradles a young daughter who happily eats her food. Then he lifts her clothes to show the scarred flesh. In a hospital, the staff pulls up the clothes on children's corpses to show bullet wounds that come from close range. These children were executed, the staff insists, as the camera bears witness.

Back in the present, a bachelor party and then wedding doesn't lack for cheer but the bridegroom feels sadness. His immediate family is all gone and he is helplessly broke. On the day of his wedding, he sees no future for himself. Children and a few adults tell their tales of terror to the camera. A woman looks for clothes to buy for her daughter at a street market but says the goods, which come through tunnels to Gaza, are too expensive.

It's not clear but presumably Lokkeberg acquired the war footage while she herself shot the sequences in the aftermath, when things returned to normal. Only there is no normal. Extreme trauma is in everyone's face. These are beaten, fatalistic, vengeful people. They curse their opponents but even these curses ring hollow.

Lokkeberg eventually finds her way back to her protagonists as the film concludes. The boy repeats his desire to become a doctor and a girl says she wants to become a lawyer to defend my homeland. The remainder of these lives will be lived in response to the bombings. The bridegroom without parents or money and the children who desire to somehow rescue their remaining relatives and neighbours from suffering. Wars have a way of never ending. This is the strongest single idea one takes away from the emotionally devastating Tears of Gaza.






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