‘an eye for an eye ….’

.. but may be I’ll take two – hope you don’t mind ….

…. that at least is the impression I got, when I finally had the chance to see Avi Mograbi’s documentary Z32. Nevertheless by the filmmaker’s doubts, which have been mixed into the film as questioning songs, it all together might – regarding also the shooting methods – recall a quite Brechtian attitude …

Just back from a screening of Avi Mograbi’s Z32 I decide that it is worth more than just an update of my earlier post, and to write here again on this film, even though it will be its third mentioning on this blog.

Despite the self-questioning attitude of the filmmaker this is a real disturbing film, which made it hard for me at times to go through, and I wonder if I should not have stayed for the following celebration of Mograbi receiving the ‘Konrad-Wolff-Preis 2009‘ in Berlin and a possible developing discussion. Though a recap just reminds me that questions about the specific German relation and the historical impact this country had on the Israeli society won’t be answered in depth on an evening like this.

Z32 by Avi Mograbi

Disturbing is the attitude of the interviewed young soldier, who, while admitting his deeds, still considers that he can be forgiven, and at the same time never shows any sorrow or empathy with the killed Palestinian police man or his family – instead he is just concerned about himself. Without the repelled girlfriend at his side the film barely would be bearable. She is the one to ask the questions and lead the interviewed soldier to the hurting points, while he attempts to stay untouched of the scenes, and just asks her over and over again to re-enact his role for him instead.

As mentioned on this blog before, by being German and being educated from early on in confrontation with the Holocaust, I am not just since yesterday being bugged by the question which trauma these people, which I am belonging to, have put on the Jewish (and certainly others too) and with this ‘laid’ into the foundation of Israel.

The portrayed soldier shows very clearly (and admitingly) symptoms of detachment – though if not experienced it seems hard to understand how entirely someone can divide oneself out of the context of a situation and be that vague in the justification within their own argumentation. “An eye for an eye … ” .. “Yes, we planned to kill six.” .. and that similar operations were planned at different places. So, just to ask while staying in this logic: “How many eyes then for an eye?”

Certainly, much more intensely then through Avi Mograbi’s self-questioning doubts my inner consciousness of ‘being German’ is immediately confronted with the charge: “Oh, you dare to ask – though tell me how many ‘eyes’ does an attempted genocide stand for?”
So far we are quite familiar with the situation, …. but what if I am bored by being the guilt ridden German, who is unable to continue questioning, just because of being guilt-ridden ….. – I prefer to be the rightfully guilty German, who wants to be addressed on the level of the agreed historical acknowledgment, and thus be able to ask back: “Why do you turn down and act out on other people what happened to you from this: my side?” ….

I know I won’t be able to answer to any upcoming question. .. too incomprehensible are the historical facts in their entirety. But it would be at least directed to the right address – though certainly we are another generation – but we stand in the historical line and have to deal with the impacts – there is no easy way out here. (looking forward to see G3 in this regard)

Instead all that happens – and this film shows it somehow exemplary by taking a look at the psyche of one single soldier – and though follows the usual psychological route of violent behavior, which simply passes the traumatic impact onto the ‘next generation’ – or/and another people. To break that vicious circle it would need to direct the question carefully, and further on it might be needed even to be related to the question, that at least the girlfriend dares to ask: “But this Palestinian police officer was not the killer at all?”, though in the wider context (implied here is already the offer to follow the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy, which certainly already exceeds a specific frame): “Are you indeed going to the right address” for your revenge?

I think that is almost the point where the film finally breaks and turns, regarding its own levels, into a relative silence .. with the masked girlfriend staring into the camera for almost endless seconds and in the end having her ask to turn ‘this’ off ….

Regarding the recent amount of ‘soldier’s insights’ coming from Israeli Cinema and filmmakers alike (see: Waltz with Bashir, Lebanon, … *) in combination with recent developments (War on Gaza) is what made me write here today and attempt to give an interpretation from my POV. I think it is time to follow the traumatic impact back to its roots instead of directing it onwards. Mograbi himself – as described in this excerpt – gives an example of this attitude:

Mograbi explores the ways in which the violence that is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to shape Israeli life in general and filmmaking, including his own, in particular. His films thus weave documentary sequences with hilariously dramatized fictitious scenes, in which he comments not only on what is seen in the documentary sequences, but also on the very process of making the film and the ways in which he himself, as a director, is implicated in the very same violence. (excerpted from duke.edu)

And finally it seems about to be time to give a voice to the filmmaker himself through an online interview I found at Nisimazine:

Avi Mograbi’s film Z32 raises questions over many subjects: War, killing, cleansing, forgiving… We wanted to see what led Mograbi on this journey of consciousness.

NM.: As an Israeli filmmaker, you make documentaries about untold parts of the conflict, war and Israel’s military actions against Palestinians. What was your first contact with Palestine?

AM.: I was 11 years old when I went to Palestine for the first time. It was right after the ‘67 war. My parents took me there in the time of euphoria of great victory. At the time, my political convictions were very different than today. I thought what my parents thought, I thought it was great that we were strong. It was a period when my identity was still not set or organized.

NM.: When did your political conviction start to take shape? What were your influences?

AM.:When I was 16 or 17. Until then I was quite right wing. Then I started to question my convictions and changed rapidly. Little by little you understand the place where you live. There was one book I read at the age of 16, it was called The Other Side of the Coin. The author of the book, Uri Avnery, was a fighter during the 1948 war. Following the war he wrote this book and told about his own experiences. Revealing a dark side of the war, he wrote about the exile of Palestinian people. Until I read it, I wasn’t aware of the Palestinian Naqba. This book was a revelation for me.

NM.: When you started making films, who did you intend to reach: the Israeli public or international audiences?

AM.: International success came much later. Israeli cinema on an international level didn’t even exist back then. It was intended for the Israeli public. At the time I was thinking more naively about the power of cinema, I thought of it as a tool for change. I was very young and naive.

NM.: You don’t believe in cinema’s power anymore?

AM.: I still think of cinema as a tool for social change but not necessarily stronger than books or talking to people. Cinema is just not the most influential tool. Politicians and people with money have so much power and they actually make change without asking your opinion. We find ourselves battling defensively against their actions. I am not sure if you can become a leading player in this game through cinema.

NM.: How does the Israeli public react to your films?

AM.: By ignoring them usually. My films get very good cinematic critiques and they are shown on some cable TV channels in Israel. But I don’t think any public debate started because of my films. I can’t see any actual feedback from the people so it is hard to say.

NM.: Do you have screenings of your films in Palestine?

AM.: Z32 was screened in Palestine for 20 people recently. It was hard for them to watch: An Israeli soldier cleansing his mind and a filmmaker helping him to do it. They were reluctant to see the critical view of the soldier and the filmmaker. They think that it softened the story too much. It turns a horrific story into something very light. I understand this perspective as all of our experiences throughout our lives determine how we see and interpret different subjects.

NM.: We see an ex soldier in Z32 with different masks to veil his face. Why did you prefer to use masks with visual effects?

AM.: If you want people to speak intimately you can’t put anything physically on their faces, it is uncomfortable. Also you lose the mimics with a mask and I wanted to see facial expressions. I appear at the beginning of the film with a mask which is a graphic of crime, terrorism, etc. I didn’t want the viewers to create an unconscious image of him as a monster, because he is a normal person who has committed a terrible crime due to many reasons. It was very important for me to maintain the human expression on his face. When he first told me that he would only do the film without exposing his identity, it felt like an obstacle – one which later turned into a creative tool. Digital masks can allow us see the expressions, and for a moment we can forget that there are masks.

(Selma Åževkli)

* which BTW all win prices … might this indeed be a hint to encourage the follow-up of a route into a deeper problem ???

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