Thursday, November 10, 2011

BIFF Reviews: Policing Israel

Policeman: Hot on the heels of my current festival low point comes a new contender for my BIFF favourite. Policeman, structured like a diptych­­­­, contains my two favourite things in film: bold, nuanced politics and strong direction tailored to the subject matter at hand.

The film has won much praise for taking the path less travelled in Israeli film by asking questions about what kind of state Israel is becoming, rather than asking how it is that the Israelis and Palestinians can resolve their differences. To paraphrase one of the films characters, “Forget about the Palestinians, Israel is the state with the largest gap between the rich and the poor." Yet even while some of its characters may want to forget about the conflict the film cannot: Instead it argues that some parts of the state have been moulded by it.

It starts off by dealing with that part of the state: the security forces. Here they are represented by an elite anti-terrorism squad. The first thing director Nadav Lapid wants us to know about them is their aggressive masculinity: the opening shot of the fighters cycling ends with their leader forcibly pushing himself into the shot, looming over us, muscles straining. This depiction is expanded upon and complicated throughout the first segment as they obsess over their bodies, bond through aggression, seek to control and impress women and come to terms with new masculine roles.

However Lapid is clearly interested in more than how they are shaped by the gendering demands of their hyper-masculinised job. Outside pressures are accounted for too; such as the way they work together to defend their reputation against justifiable challenges (even if it means intimidating wavering members) and the casual racism which allows them to kill the enemy. The Israeli state, Lapid contends, has not been created in a vacuum.

Once it has drawn this portrait it shifts to those who are concerned with the make-up of the Isreali state: the young middle-class. But the film hardly lionises them: they’re emotionally volatile, perilously naive and seduced by violence – one early sequence draws its potency from the erotic charge of a gun being run along skin. Furthermore while they are horrified by the inequality in their society and ashamed of their own wealth they’re still uncertain or arrogant in their dealings with lower classes and prone to falling back on their privilege.

Nonetheless even while the film acknowledges this it seems to share their concerns: the sole use of non-diegetic music is used to give their final statement fresh potency, the statistics and situations the script shoehorns in through a final speech rehearsal cannot fail to stoke outrage and the rich, although not denied their dignity, are shown to be callously indifferent to the violence that protects them.

The film on the other hand is anything but indifferent. Its final image seems to ask if the ease with which Israeli security teams kill Palestinian dissidents has made it easier to respond to all dissidence with violence – a simple, straightforward note for an otherwise thrillingly messy film, but a potent one nonetheless.

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