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Two urgent short films and both sides of the Israel-Gaza border

The other day, I watched a wonderful and heartbreaking short film published on the New Yorker magazine website. his story Photo of filmmaker Yahav Winner, who was killed when Hamas extremists massacred Israeli citizens on October 7.

For many reasons, I have returned to the movie “The Boy” several times to imagine the career Winner could have had; marveling at the patient, the absolute accuracy of every visual decision he makes; and to help an outsider, namely me, grasp a conflict whose beginning is now distant and has an unpredictable end. Meanwhile, the death toll in the Israel-Hamas war includes an estimated 1,400 Israelis and more than 10,000 Palestinians. In a month.

“Boy” Available on YouTube. It’s 25 minutes long and wide enough for a humane filmmaker’s eye to widen.

The action takes place where Winner lives with his wife, filmmaker Shaylee Atary, and their infant daughter: the Kfar Aza kibbutz a few miles away, as reported in an Oct. 27 article by New Yorker writer Daniel Lombroso. featureThe barbed wire that marks the Israel-Gaza divide. “The Boy” tells the fictional story of Barak (Nimrod Peleg), a young man who is now a war veteran living in his home in a highly unstable state of mind.

It is never far from the sounds of machine guns or the periodic Code Red warning sirens and the sounds of the latest explosions; While it’s not always close, it’s not far enough for comfort. At one point, Barak, who is home at night watching a reality TV show with his parents and brother, is visibly shaken by another bomb exploding nearby.

Don’t worry, his tired father says, played with subtle anguish by Yoram Toledano. “This is our.”

Starting from this, writer-director Winner takes “The Boy” deeper into the traumatized situation of the lead character. Clinical and narrative details regarding his condition and the travails of his struggle remain scant. The sheer strangeness of life along this frontier, where there was relative peace but constantly threatening conflict at the time Winner filmed her project, fills the backup story to the brim without thesis statements or polemics. As Winner’s widow, Atary, told the New Yorker: The young man in “The Boy” lives in numb heartbreak because “he knows the people on the other side of the fence are (just) like him.”

Later in the movie, Barak’s father advises his son to come home with him and try to sleep. “I don’t want to wake up,” Barak says through tears.

“You have to,” the father replies imploringly. The speech echoes Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and includes the following lines:

“I can’t go on like this.”

“This is your opinion.”

These words of existential lament and human resignation know no bounds.

What Barak could only imagine was happening in Gaza becomes even more vivid in the hands of other filmmakers. In the 24-minute Oscar-nominated short film “The Present” (2020), a Palestinian father (Saleh Bakri) and his teenage daughter (Meryem Kanj) go on a shopping trip in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The father’s task: to buy his wife a new refrigerator; He is aware that it is not a romantic anniversary gift, but he needs it very much.

The Present, now streaming on Netflix, is a movie full of obstacles. It was filmed partly at checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem without permission from Israeli authorities, said director and co-writer, Palestinian-British filmmaker Farah Nabulsi. Israelis will not be pleased with the story’s portrayal of authoritarian, tyrannical Israeli soldiers. But Nabulsi did not set out with appeasement in mind.

“I wanted to tell a human story about a very cruel reality.” Nabulsi told this to a France 24 TV reporter. Three years after making “The Present,” the present has become the prologue to a war with no end in sight.

A month before the October 7 Hamas massacre, Nabulsi’s first film, “The Teacher,” about a Palestinian educator’s political crisis of conscience, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Winner, the director of “The Boy,” never got that far. Obituary from The Times of Israel He noted that Winner’s first feature-length project was left unfinished at the time of her death at the hands of Hamas extremists.

His feature was set in the village where he lives and would be an examination of “the constant conflict that exists within you when you look over the fence at what’s happening in Gaza,” he told an interviewer. While he managed to save his wife and daughter, he said the conflict, which ultimately cost him his own life, was “traumatic because there was no resolution, but in all of this there was comfort in personal connections.”

This is what cinema can do if we let it. It provides connections between the lives on the screen and lives like ours, not like ours.

As Gaza turns into a “child cemetery,” as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on November 6, and the fate of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas becomes even more uncertain, it seems a bit ridiculous to seek answers or meaning to these questions. A movie that seeks the same thing. And yet I’ve been doing this lately. Art shapes history and has a way of showing where we are going, for better or worse.

“The Boy” and “The Present” are just two of hundreds of films, short and long, non-fiction and fiction, provoked by a geopolitical conflict that once again turns into a war of flames and despair, once again tearing people apart. .

These two films are not front-line films. These are not justifications for the massacre. They work in very different ways, for different purposes. But both serve as distillations of lives unfolding in a terrifying realm of everyday reality.

If we cannot accept Israel’s politically and morally complex response to this reality, then “The Boy” has nothing left to tell us. If we cannot accept the depiction of the routine humiliation of Palestinians under Israeli military rule, then “The Present Tense” is just emotional propaganda. What if we could? Then at least we can discuss barbarism and despair like humans.

“The Boy” and “The Present” predate the current Israel-Hamas massacre, but they are full of portents. The films don’t exactly speak to each other, but the filmmakers involved share a longing for what remains unattainable for now. A dream.

Last week, The Guardian gave an interview With Winner’s Israeli director friend Ari Folman the unforgettable “Waltz with Bashir” About Folman’s firsthand experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War. Folman finds Western media coverage of the brutality of the October 7 Hamas massacre “hypocritical.” The filmmaker also said Netanyahu “will never remain in power again” after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up retaliatory missile attacks on Gaza, killing 10,000 people so far.

Folman added: “I still believe there will be a solution here. All my life I’ve had the feeling that after a major disaster (like October 7) a new order would be established in the Middle East.” He finished with a sentence very similar to “Waiting for Godot,” transported to a different place and time: “We can’t keep living like this.”

Both “The Present” and “The Boy” dramatize the same declaration; It’s complicated by the terrible possibility that we could possibly do it.

“The Boy” is streaming on YouTube courtesy of New Yorker magazine. “The Present” is streaming on Netflix and is also available on other platforms.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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