THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 12, 2009
The Venice Film Festival is the oldest celluloid gala in the world. Not as vaunted and haunted by the publicity machines but intellectually more serious than Cannes. The Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia, a most prestigious element of the Venice Biennale, bestowed its Golden Lion award, its top honor, on an Israeli film called Lebanon. It is a relentlessly honest film about war itself but also specifically about Israel's first real war in Lebanon. (There had been skirmishes before, especially in 1978, and more than skirmishes since, as in 2006.) Read about this motion picture in The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz.
I have not yet seen Lebanon. But I know what it is, given the characteristically (and thank God) self-conscious and self-critical disposition of all of Israel's arts. Yes, they fight heroically but they also ponder. Would that there were even a bit of this doubt or even detachment among Arab intellectuals and artists. Alas, there isn't. The Arab dissident has left for the West or is silent.
Lebanon is actually shot through the eye of an Israeli tank, mostly to the crew inside but also to those outside, targets and not targets. You can imagine the drama of a handful of guys in the bowels of a Merkava I, a tiny enclosed space, for days at a time. This is theatre verité in spades.
The film was launched with the support of the private and official patrons of the industry and, of course, without interference from them. In Israel, hyper-critical artists like Ohad Naharin, the director of the Batsheva Dance Company, receive the Israel Prize. The money comes from the government. I actually thought that Naharin shouldn't get the cash. A person who attacks his society as viciously as he does needn't receive cash awards from the pockets of his people.
The Biennale award-winner is the third recent Israeli film to focus on Lebanon. The first was Beaufort; the second was Waltz with Bashir, a searing movie that seemed to forget that the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila were carried out by a cohort of pious Christian murderers, the self-styled carriers of European civilization, Maronites who genuflect before the Holy Father.
Enough of my defensiveness.
As you may recall, I wrote earlier this week about Jane Fonda and her comrades--Alice Walker, Danny Glover and about fifty other literati, mostly unknown--who are boycotting and asking others to boycott the Toronto Film Festival because the celebration also honors the hundredth anniversary of the city of Tel Aviv and its remarkable film culture. The lead Israeli film at Toronto is Ajami, a film already honored at the Jerusalem Film Festival and which received a Camera d'Or at Cannes. This movie, co-directed by an Israeli and an Arab, is an intricate screen piece about Jews and Palestinians that challenges, even defies the imagination.
Jane Fonda does not want you to see this... or any Israeli film, for that matter. She is a totalitarian in her guts. And so are her comrades. They are the ones in our culture who want to cut off talk about Israel and Palestine because they are politically allergic to anything but the amuletic formula of their political phantasy, "whatever the Palestinians want, the Palestinians get." This, as I've said, is a formula for Palestinian political suicide which, I am afraid, the president is also indulging. But that's another matter, better left for any time.