Review: The Writer ★★★★ - A guide for the perplexed from the writer of hit Israeli TV series Arab Labour

film-the-writer More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, featuring this mockumentary written by Sayed Kashua and directed by Shay Capon.

If you loved Arab-Israeli writer Sayed Kashua’s Arab Labour and you’re into Larry Davidson, this meta-reality TV series, which has its first three episodes screened at the Festival, is for you. But don’t expect to get the belly laughs or even the cynical giggles you got from Larry and Arab Labour’s genial, narcissistic anti-hero Amjad (who finds celebrity when he wins a TV reality show). Kashua’s writer Kateb (wonderfully perplexed Yousef Sweid) is his fictional alter ego, an Arab-Israeli TV writer who has achieved celebrity status with his hit TV series called – yes you’ve guessed it – Arab Labour.

But Kaleb is uneasy about his celebrity – is he merely the acceptable face of Arab-Israeli culture – the creative who makes Israelis feel liberal when they laugh with him at his clever take on life on the other side of the cultural divide? And despite – or perhaps partly because of his success, he’s having a mid-life crisis. Is he really living the dream or is he increasingly alienated from his admittedly demanding wife and teenage daughter as he ineffectually juggles the life/work balance with increasingly chaotic results? And then there’s his insecure pre-teen son, terrified by his father’s altercation with a black-garbed, Orthodox Jew complete with sidecurls as the pair go head to head over a parking space. Will their overreaction lead to violent repercussions or will an apology go some way towards rapprochement between these members of two communities living uneasily side by side?

His attempt to answer these questions leads him to announce a sabbatical from making a new series of Arab Labour – instead he proposes a series based on a character much like himself, going through just the sort of life experiences he is experiencing. See what I mean about meta-reality? This one really does have as many layers as an onion. So the laughs are subtle and the questions posed about Israeli society promise to continue to be telling in the rest of the series of ten episodes. With Fauda – the hit action series about an Israeli undercover unit operating in Palestinian territory that has proved a runaway success with both Palestinians and Israelis – about to come to Netflix, I’m optimistic that I’ll find out – I just hope I don’t have to wait too long!

By Judi Herman

The Writer screens on Sunday 20 November,  4pm, at JW3, NW3 6ET.


Review: Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ - Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

film_disturbing-the-peace More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, starting with Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young's documentary, Disturbing the Peace.

For a searing insight into the wounds inflicted on both sides by the situation and into a group that has earned the right to work towards trying to heal them, I urge you to see this hard-hitting documentary. Even-handed filmmakers Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young take no prisoners and no sides. They give equal screen-time to the bravely candid members of Combatants for Peace from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities who speak directly to camera to tell their stories, backed up by documentary footage and reconstructions, as well as tense actuality of unfolding events.

These men and women really have earned the right to fight for peace and co-existence over the ten years since they were established. There’s the Palestinian woman who kissed her little daughter goodbye, explaining that she would not see her again as she intended to blow herself up. Apprehended and in an Israeli prison, it’s the humanity of her female jailers that helps her to listen to the narrative of the other. Another Palestinian activist, a man this time, learns to understand the other literally as well, as he learns Hebrew in prison. And equally, it’s impossible not to hear the narrative of both ‘sides’ as the film reveals the sort of punitive action that makes men and women come to the conclusion that taking such desperate action is the only way – houses demolished leaving weeping families on the street, a younger pre-teen brother gunned down for trying to go 50 yards down the street to a cousin’s house during a punishingly early curfew. I am reminded of the coming together of bereaved family members from both communities in the Bereaved Families Forum, who also speak of listening to the narrative of the other.

For every bit of footage showing desperate Jews trying to get to Palestine or emaciated bodies in the camps, there’s equally shocking footage of the bodies left behind after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. As one of the combatants (and tellingly I cannot remember from which community) says “Blood is blood – it doesn’t have two colours” – and another “Every act of violence causes pain”. The plangent beauty of oud music on the soundtrack makes these scenes and statements all the more poignant.

It’s heartening and moving to see Israeli members of Combatants for Peace, who present at first as 'hardened' soldiers from elite units, taking blankets to Palestinian families whose houses have been demolished. Equally though, it is worrying to see the military presence (and the tension that engenders) that accompanies their peaceful rallies, almost reminiscent of 1960s hippies or the Greenham Common women, though these Combatants for Peace have experienced pain and violence at first hand. One of the most telling images in the film is a mock tomb with the message “We don’t want you here” carved on it. For me that says it all.

By Judi Herman

Disturbing the Peace screens on Tuesday 15 November, 6.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.