Bethlehem

March 7, 2014

in Movies

Film (2013)

Directed by Yuval Adler
Screenplay by Yuval Adler and Ali Wakad

Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA

Music by Yishai Adar; Cinematography by Yaron Scharf; Film Editing by Ron Omer; Casting By Na’ama Zaltzman, Liron Zohar

With Tsahi Halevi (Razi), Shadi Mar’i (Sanfur), Hitham Omari (Badawi), Michal Shtamler (Einat), Tarik Kopty (Abu Ibrahim), George Iskandar (Nasser), Hisham Suliman (Ibrahim)

Tsahi Halevi as Razi, Shadi Mar'i as Sanfur in 'Bethlehem'

Tsahi Halevi as Razi
Shadi Mar’i as Sanfur
in “Bethlehem”
Photo: Courtesy of Adopt Films, LLC

An intense and vivid story about the Israeli domestic secret security agency, the Shin Bet, and undercover Palestinian agents, co-written by an Israeli Jewish filmmaker and a Palestinian Muslim journalist.

I have seen quite a number of dramatized accounts of issues pertaining to Israelis and Palestinians, ranging, among them, from the delightful, poignant and improbable The Band’s Visit (2007), to the heartbreaking story of Israeli-Palestinian gay romance and ultimate self-sacrifice in Eytan Fox’s The Bubble (2006), to the superbly suggestive story of babies switched at birth, The Other Son (2012).

Though each good in its own way, none of these quite equals, in intensity and seeming authenticity, the power of Bethlehem, a tale of Israelis in the secret service and their Palestinian undercover agents.

Tsahi Halevi as Razi in 'Bethlehem'

Tsahi Halevi as Razi
in “Bethlehem”
Photo: Courtesy of Adopt Films, LLC

The portrayals of the main characters – Razi (Tsahi Halevi), the Israeli agent, and Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), his young, Palestinian undercover agent – are clear, unsentimental and entirely believable. The relation between the two is thoughtfully presented, and complex.

Obviously motivated on the Israeli side by the demand for intelligence, it has a tragically human dimension. Though Razi uses Sanfur, he seeks, despite the prevailing requirements, to safeguard him as much as possible. We also see Sanfur’s need for connection of the sort Razi offers, though the film vividly tracks the evolution of the knots in the relationship and draws the viewer forward to the unsettling way in which these knots get untied.

Shadi Mar'i as Sanfur in 'Bethlehem'

Shadi Mar’i as Sanfur
in “Bethlehem”
Photo: Courtesy of Adopt Films, LLC

There is such dramatic evocation in the way that the Israeli military presence and the Palestinian response are shown that some scenes are quite difficult to watch. There is nothing showy or histrionic about these depictions; in some sense, they seem matter of fact, which makes them all the more heartbreaking.

Striking, and frequently surprising, interviews with many of the leaders of the Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic secret service, comprise the recent documentary The Gatekeepers (2012).

In the short expanse of the film, some of the complex landscape of Palestinian society is captured, from the young to the old, and from those who, presumably on the sidelines of activity, are drawn unwittingly into it. A quite revealing scene involving the interaction between members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and of Hamas serves to highlight the Palestinian political complexities concisely.

The Israeli-Palestinian co-authorship has contributed significantly to a film which does its best to convey this tragic story without taking obvious sides. Like all good tragedies, it shows the contributing factors with neutrality, while drawing out, through the evolving conflicts between them, a sense of inevitability and human cost. Apart from the artistry itself, one can only hope that such vivid artistic collaborations can help to provide the groundwork for the kinds of actual political dialogue that lead away from a sense of tragic inevitability towards eventual peace.

– BADMan

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