Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 16, 2012

The Law in these Parts; In the Family; Generation P

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:25 am

I doubt that any missile launched by Palestinians in retaliation against the latest and most appalling Israeli-imposed massacre in Gaza will have anything near the firepower of “The Law in these Parts”, a documentary that opens at N.Y.’s Film Forum tomorrow.

Produced and directed by Israelis, the film consists of director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz interviewing retirees from Israel’s military legal corps, the kind of character played by Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” but in this instance a few deeply evil men, openly cynical and amoral in a way that epitomizes the Zionist entity. Now in their 60s and older, they were responsible for drafting the laws that Palestinians had to live by in occupied territories. When Alexandrowicz asks one why they did not simply have them live under Israeli laws, he shrugs his shoulders and says that this would entail negative consequences. When asked to spell that out, he replies that this would have meant that they had the same rights as Israelis, something clearly unacceptable to a brutal occupying power. After a while, it is hard to resist coming down on the side of the equation that gets people like Alan Dershowitz so worked up, namely Zionism = Nazism. I doubt that the men who drafted the Nuremburg Laws would come off more despicable than the crew that agreed to be interviewed by Alexandrowicz.

When he points out to one interviewee that the judges assigned to Palestinian cases in the occupied territories acted as if they were carrying out orders from the IDF, the man replies: “Order and justice do not always go hand in hand.”

Alexandrowicz is careful not to jump down the judges’ throats in standard Mike Wallace “Sixty Minutes” style since they most likely would have aborted the project. Instead he allows them to hoist themselves on their own petard. Speaking to a friend earlier about the latest blitzkrieg against Gaza, he remarked that the IDF tweets reflect a power that cares little about public opinion. In most instances of imperialist (or sub-imperialist) slaughter you get crocodile tears over how unfortunate it is to launch a war, but with Israel you get this: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” This brazen declaration of Israel’s homicidal intent is something that comes straight out of the fascist playbook and should be a reminder to the liberal left that clapped insanely over Obama’s re-election that they need to clean up their act. This is the iron fist of the Obama administration standing behind the Israeli government:

There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

–Mark Toner, State Department spokeman

When Alexandrowicz asks a judge whether Israelis would live under the same system of justice that Palestinians in occupied territories are forced to endure, he replies that he is not interested in hypothetical situations. This reply and the general posture of the retired colonels who generally constitute the legal corps is one of complete disregard not only for the meaning of a legal system, but the humanity of the people over whom they rule.

More than anything else, the film is razor-sharp critique of the laws underpinning the occupation system that has allowed a half-million Israelis to evict Palestinians from their land in the West Bank. When international law stipulated that occupied lands could not be taken over, the Israeli judges invoked the “Mawat Law”, a code from Ottoman days that allowed land further than the sound of a “rooster’s crow” to be settled by an outsider. This quaint institution from antiquity was used as the basis for a new law that allowed the massive penetration of the West Bank using bulldozers backed up by machine guns.

The press notes for “The Law in these Parts” explains the motivation of the director:

In mid 2004, I got a phone call telling me that Ahmad S., a boy who had just turned 16 and was one of the hardly-­‐seen participants in The Inner Tour, was taken from his home in the middle of the night by masked Israeli soldiers. Ahmad was charged with throwing stones at a military Jeep and was held in a maximum-­‐security prison. After confessing during interrogation, Ahmad was scheduled for a remand hearing in a military court. His family asked that I join them.

For the first time in my life I found myself in an Israeli military courtroom, witnessing the mechanism with which my society purports to administer justice to Palestinian residents of the territories we have occupied since 1967. This event profoundly changed my understanding of the situation in which I live.

There were many striking differences between trials I had seen in regular civilian courts in Israel and Ahmad’s military trial, but the thing that disturbed me most was that I was witnessing a supposedly legal procedure, an effort to bring a “criminal” to trial, something that I, like any law-abiding citizen in a democratic state usually support. But there was one major problem – this 16-year-old boy was not part of the society that was indicting and convicting him.  Neither Ahmad nor his parents ever had any democratic way of influencing the law by which he was now being tried: the Law of Occupation, the same law which enabled an Israeli settlement to be erected on their family lands. Everyone was “playing along” but the truth was that Ahmad and his family didn’t really think that by resisting a military occupation he committed any sort of crime.  Ahmad was the subject of a legal proceeding, but the concepts of justice and law, words that were repeated again and again during the trial, belonged to someone else.

After seven and a half months Ahmad’s trial ended. The Judge ruled that the time he had spent in prison for the period of the proceedings would suffice as a punishment for what he had done. These seven months led me to try to understand the Law of Occupation.

Also opening tomorrow, and at the Cinema Village in N.Y., is “In the Family”–hailed as a masterpiece of indie cinema but one that never made it outside the film festival galaxy. At 169 minutes and very deliberately paced, it might be mistaken at first (as was certainly the case for me) as a “problem” movie of the sort that is shown on the Lifetime Channel. Or more accurately, the Logo Channel on cable TV that features shows geared to the gay community.

Written, directed and starring Patrick Wang, it depicts a custody battle over the six-year old boy being raised by “two daddies”. One of them is Joey Williams, a furniture craftsman played by Wang who owes his name to his adoptive parents. He lives with Cody Hines and Cody’s son Chip from an earlier heterosexual marriage. The film opens with the three enjoying domestic bliss, something that is a refreshing departure from the doom and gloom scenarios we have grown accustomed to from Hollywood with films like “Philadelphia” or “Brokeback Mountain”.

However, gloom does arrive abruptly early on with the death of Cody in an automobile accident. Not long afterwards, Joey discovers that Cody’s will instructed that his sister Eileen would raise the boy in the event of his death. One can only surmise that he had failed to update his will since it was clear that he regarded Joey as equal to him in having both rights and responsibilities over child-rearing.

The film takes a while to gather steam but once it does, it is with the power of a locomotive. The final scene is a courtroom drama involving Joey and the straight parents whose lawyer seems to have crawled from beneath a rock. At one point he asks him if he is a pedophile, a provocation that is probably too much for Cody’s sister and brother-in-law. They may not approve of their nephew being raised by a gay man but they are far too educated and “tolerant” to abide by such accusations.

The story behind the making of the movie is almost as dramatic as the movie itself. Patrick Wang graduated from MIT with a degree in Economics and a concentration in Music and Theatre Arts. According to the press notes, he started out professionally as an economist. In that capacity, he studied energy policy, game theory, and income inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Harvard School for Public Health and other organizations.

Using money that he had saved from such an establishment job, he put a half-million dollars into the film and stubbornly tried to get a theatrical release even though distributors were not interested. Fortunately, the quality of the work sold itself and New Yorkers have a rare opportunity to see something that not only is top-notch film-making but an eloquent but carefully modulated statement about the essential humanity of same-sexers.

Finally, we come to “Generation P”, a Russian film also opening tomorrow. Unfortunately, the publicity did not mention where it is opening. Perhaps this is just as well since I did not find it very interesting even though it was supposedly “serves a sharp critique of consumerist culture as well as the current political situations in Russia and here in the U.S.” Well, who would want to pass on that?

Directed by Viktor Ginzberg, a Russian émigré born in 1959 that came to the U.S. with his parents when he was fifteen, and was educated at the New School in N.Y., it is an attempt to transform Viktor Pelevin’s cult novel of the same name into a film (in Russia the title is Generation П). Although I have only read a good 30 pages or so of the work on Google books, I feel relatively confident in stating that the film’s problems are related to the source material. Just as the earnest effort to transform Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” into a film ran into the glass ceiling of arguably the Bard’s worst writing, so Ginzberg was thwarted by what I surmise to be a bad piece of writing.

Pelevin’s novel is a satire on the advertising industry that sprang up in the early 90s, a period described by one of the characters as a kind of gold rush that might not last more than a couple of years. The character is an old friend of the main character Babylen Tatarsky, who he recruits to his advertising company.

Although advertising is a symbol of decadence just as it is in “Mad Men”, a work that Pelevin’s novel has been likened to, the film (and obviously the novel) treats the industry as a kind of launching pad for a laborious and ultimately exhausting mind trip having much more in common with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” than the reality of post-Soviet society in the early 90s. For example, the admen put together a computer graphics system that creates the virtual reality of a politician who runs for President of the Russian republic. The problem is that it has so little connection with the real dynamics of the period that it might as well have been about Brazil.

The other problem is that about a third of the film is devoted to long stretches of Tatarsky’s hallucinogenic drug taking that we are supposed to find interesting. I personally am bored by anybody writing about his or her LSD or mushroom trips and wonder why Pelevin would think that this is worth our time. Ginzberg, who introduced the film at a special screening at NYU, told the students to enjoy the trip. At 67, perhaps I am feeling my age, but sitting through the film was about as much fun as a trip to the dentist.

2 Comments »

  1. Louis, it’s a pity that your sensibility, not your age, is preventing you from enjoying this brilliant film and the brilliant novel, that it’s based on. Your sensibility is really mainstream hollywood, but ideally dressed up like an “independent” movie. You can’t digest anything else. This malaise affects quite a few critics, regardless of age. This movie is cutting edge in both storytelling and film language and a hit among the smart crowds worldwide, regardless of age. Readers of your blog should know what other critics think:

    http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/movies/victor-ginzburgs-russian-satire-generation-p.html?_r=1&

    http://www.timeout.com/us/film/generation-p

    http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-11-14/film/generation-p-film-review/

    http://www.indiewire.com/article/10-reviews-of-new-releases-from-anna-karenina-to-silver-linings#generation%20p

    Comment by Max — November 24, 2012 @ 3:44 am

  2. [...] Classics’ “The Gatekeepers”, my first reaction was to assume that it was similar to “The Law in These Parts”, the Israeli documentary that is based on interviews with the military judges responsible for [...]

    Pingback by The Gatekeepers « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — January 31, 2013 @ 5:35 pm


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