Désengagement culminates in Israel’s 2005 eviction of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, the “Palestinian territories” that (following Egypt) Israel had occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. (Israel’s evacuation was unilateral, that is, without any quid pro quo with Palestinian groups.) This stunning, gut-wrenching film concludes Amos Gitaï’s Border Trilogy (Promised Land, 2004; Free Zone, 2005). It is from Israel, France, Italy, Germany.
The occasion of his adoptive father’s death brings Uli, an Israeli police officer (Liron Levo, charismatic, wonderful), to Avignon for the funeral. The estate, dilapidated, is dominated by two women: a regal soprano whose connection to the deceased remains mysterious since his will doesn’t seem to mention her; the deceased’s daughter, Ana (Juliette Binoche, dazzling, heartbreaking, brilliant—and, of course, beautiful beyond belief). Ana is at perpetual loose ends, “disengaged” from life, including her Jewish heritage; flirtatious with Uli, at one point she flashes him, announcing, “We aren’t really brother and sister, you know.” It is obvious that he adores her—as her brother. Ana’s forgery of a will hopes to redress their father’s inattention to—his “disengagement” from—Uli, whose mother he divorced; but the family attorney (Jeanne Moreau, concise, rock-solid) declares the document a fake and produces the real will. Uli gets only his father’s car (which doesn’t last long); a major beneficiary is Dana, the daughter that Ana bore as a teenager and abandoned. Dana (Dana Ivgy, a knockout), whom her grandfather had visited three or four times, is now a teacher of young children in the Gaza Strip. To collect her own inheritance, Ana will have to accompany Uli back to Israel, reunite with Dana and give Dana her inheritance. Ana’s road-journey back to her daughter and the Jewish identity she has ignored constitutes great and humane cinema.
“Shattering” is no hyperbole for describing the reunion—a reconciliation to match the one with Cordelia that Lear dreamed of. Outdoors, Dana leaves her young pupils to face Ana; the silence between them that seems to last an eternity is broken by Dana’s explosive, reciprocated hug. Be prepared for a radiantly long scene as the two women, their arms wrapped around each other, find their embrace transformed into a turning and turning “dance”: cinema’s most trenchant dance since Monica Vitti’s frenzied one in African brownface in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse (1962). But the reunion is short-lived; Dana is dragged off by the police, leaving her mother bereft, facing Uli (in uniform), whom she beats with every bit of strength in her, and who does his best to calm her. However, this event is only one strand in a phenomenal fabric that also includes the evacuation of the Torah after the police bust up a prayer service—and the intrusion of Palestinians. It is true that Uli, like many others, is executing a duty that may be distasteful to him; but it is also true that officers have to be instructed that the settlers are fellow citizens worthy of careful treatment, and that the whole event unearths fault lines between Israel’s secular and observant Jews. What a remarkable finale!
The pre-credit prologue is equally remarkable: onboard a train, in the narrow corridor, two passengers, strangers, meet and have a smoke together before exiting for casual sex. The man is Uli, whose national identity, like Gitaï’s, is both Israeli and French; the woman, a Palestinian with a Dutch passport, who, when confronted by an official seeking clear-cut proof of identities, must explain, “It’s more complicated than that.” Uli’s adoptive father was born in New York; Ana’s identity also is fractured, between what she denies and what she cannot quite get hold of. This terrific work is haunted throughout by its sad, wry prologue, which suggests an undefined transport with only fleeting pleasure and no certain arrival.
Everyone should see this movie.
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