Arts & Events

New: FILM REVIEW: Tears of Gaza: An Apolitical Apocalypse-- Opens September 21 at the Elmwood Theater

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Thursday September 20, 2012 - 09:28:00 AM

In a perfect world, I'd like to think Bibi Netanyahu might be required to sit through a screening of Tears of Gaza—and that he would emerge moved by the plight of the Palestinians. Again, in a more perfect world, I would wish that the men who manufactured the bullets, grenades and unquenchable, flesh-searing phosphorus bombs used in Gaza (and elsewhere in the world) would be required to sit through this film—in the company of their horrified wives and children. 

This documentary is an "apolitical" film in that it does not or dwell on the history of a particular regional conflict nor trouble itself with the rationales or strategies behind any particular military action. It merely shows the human consequences of war on a single, trapped and beleaguered civilian population. 

In the broader context, however, the film's very title reminds us that the remarkable footage (captured by numerous photographers and filmmakers on the ground) is a civilian's-eye documentation of Israel's "Cast Lead" attack on Gaza in 2008. 

Because Israel refused to allow any international reporters to enter Gaza during the assault, the ferocity of the attack has remained largely unrecorded and unseen in the West—until the release of this stunning Norwegian documentary. 

Norwegian director, actress and author Vibeke Løkkeberg was moved to undertake this film (her twelfth since 1966) after watching a brief interview with several child survivors of the Cast Lead attack. Løkkeberg explained it was "the short glimpses of children's faces displayed on my TV set, after they had lived through the war" that motivated her to secure funding from The Freedom of Expression Foundation and the Norwegian Film Institute and to undertake the film project, with the assistance of producer Terje Kristiansen. 

"Wars are senseless, destructive, unworthy of mankind," Løkkeberg insists, offering as proof the words of a grieving father, holding the burned body of a child disfigured by the effects of a phosphorous bomb: "What God do these people believe in, who can do this against children? And how can I gather the strength to forgive?" 

The 2011 winner of the Human Rights Award and the Monaco Charity Film Festival, Tears of Gaza has also screened at the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival, where it was hailed as "an unsettling, gut-wrenching, and simultaneously thought-provoking film." 

Tears of Gaza revolves around several extensive and emotional interviews with three young survivors—Amira, Razmia and Yahya. The interviews and other scenes of Gaza's shell-shocked survivors were shot covertly by local filmmakers working in Gaza over a period of six months. After the footage was smuggled out of Gaza, it took another year for the raw footage to be edited into the final 83-minute-long film. 

This is what war looks like up close, unfiltered by corporate news anchors, uninterrupted by commercials for Charmin Ultra Soft and Febreze air fresheners. That means confronting the visual impact of bodies charred by phosphorous weapons, gaping bullet-caused wounds in bellies and heads, and bullet holes in the bodies of two-year-old children, clearly suggesting that they had been executed at close range. 

Because of the Israeli-imposed blockade on goods and services, when the bombs being to fall, the impoverished residents of Gaza are even less able to defense themselves. There are no ambulances to carry the victims; lacking a fire department, families struggle to save their burning homes with garden hoses. 

Variety praised the "disturbing immediacy and visceral terror" of this powerful film, noting that its message was above politics and "almost purely observational…. The wounded parents carrying maimed children are not in uniform, and the bullet holes in the two-year-olds did not arrive by accident." 

As Tears of Gaza manages to find rare theatrical screenings in select US cities, producer Kristiansen recently offered an observation about the so-called "War on terror" being orchestrated from Washington. According to Kristiansen, "The use of words like 'terrorist,' 'discrimination' and 'democracy' tend to be mantras for justifying the use of violence." 

Tears of Gaza makes it abundantly clear that we've had too much violence. It's time to start focusing on healing.