Thanks to Cinema Libre Studio, a California film distribution company specializing in politically enlightened fiction and documentary films, “Palestine Blues” is now available in home video.
Since its director Nida Sinnokrot is Palestinian-American, he has a special rapport with the West Bank villagers who were overrun by Israeli bulldozers and tanks in 2003 when the erection of a massive “security” wall was used as an excuse to seize their land and water resources. The film begins with a trip to the Gaza village where American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while she was protesting a similar land seizure.
Most of the film takes place, however, in West Bank villages like Jayyous where olive and citrus trees have been tended for hundreds of years on land owned by the same families. The sight of a bulldozer smashing into these trees is almost as infuriating as the idea of Rachel Corrie being run over.
The film gets its name from blues songs by Blind Willie Johnson and Muddy Waters that are part of its soundtrack and obviously related to the mournful subject matter. While I would not want to read too much into the narrative, the generally nonviolent character of the Palestinian protests seen in the film probably reflects a different approach than the one adopted by Hamas. Although Hamas’s tactics are far more militant than those found on the dusty roads around the village of Jayyous, it would be difficult to judge which are more effective. At this stage in history, the outlook appears very guarded for this long-standing liberation struggle. Even when Sinnokrot informs the viewer that the International Court of Justice has declared the apartheid wall being constructed in the West Bank as illegal, it has not stopped Israel from plowing ahead.
Though a Jew (nonobservant except for 30 minutes spent at a local synagogue on Yom Kippur in remembrance of my very observant mother), I felt enormous rage at the Israeli soldiers in the movie whose inhumanity is obviously very much a function of a Zionist ideology premised on “never again”. That the Judeocide is providing an excuse plowing down the olive trees of innocent farmers virtually screams out for a new Isaiah to condemn the sins of the Jewish tribe today.
As someone who is being solicited on practically a daily basis to watch and review DVD screeners from small distribution companies like Cinema Libre Studio, I generally give my approval without reading the fine print. So when Echelon Studios invited me to review “Dear Mr. Waldman”, I said go ahead.
When I opened the UPS package, however, I was taken aback to discover that this is an Israeli film that takes place in 1962 and is focused on the efforts of an Auschwitz survivor to get over his trauma. I have only seen one Israeli film in the past and that was “Kadosh”, a searing indictment of sexism in an Orthodox sect. Despite the movie’s progressive message, I could not help but feel that the men and women who made it were more concerned about the abuses of Orthodox Judaism against their brand of secular Zionism than anything so obtrusive as olive trees being plowed under.
Despite being prepared to hate “Dear Mr. Waldman”, I must report that it is an excellent film (and also available from Netflix). It is basically a coming-of-age story focused on a ten year old boy named Hilik Waldman (Ido Port) and his mother and father, who were survivors of Auschwitz. His father Moishe (Rami Heuberger) is a humble bookbinder who is obsessed with his son Yankel (Yiddish for Jack) who died at Auschwitz along with the wife he prefers to his current wife Rivka (Jenya Dodina).
Moishe has convinced himself that JFK’s adviser Jack Waldman is none other than his long-lost son and his family humors him only until his obsession takes a turn for the worse. It turns out that Hilik is responsible for this turn since he sends his father a letter supposedly written by Jack Waldman that practically identifies Moishe as his father. The plot moves along inexorably as Moishe puts both emotional and physical distance with his current family as it competes with a family that only exists in his imagination.
As is often the case, I like to compare my reaction to a movie with that of other critics, leaving aside of course the idiots like Peter Travers at the Rolling Stone who are virtually indistinguishable from publicists working for the studios. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, where my reviews are gathered, I noticed that Prairie Miller also reviewed “Dear Mr. Waldman”. Since Prairie has a show on WBAI and is even more anti-capitalist than me, I was curious to get her reaction, which started as follows:
A bittersweet family saga that plays out as a kind of Cinema Paradiso in old Tel Aviv, Dear Mr. Waldman (Michtavim Le America) delves with rich tenderness and raw emotion into the myriad, sometimes peculiar ways that human beings adapt to traumatic loss and tentatively embrace healing. And for withdrawn ten year old daydreamer Hilik Waldman (Ido Port) in 1960s urban Tel Aviv, sneaking off to the movies in the afternoons affords a choice of larger-than-life heroes as alternative identities, with which to establish control over an insecure home life, reinvent fate and pursue happy endings.
I couldn’t put it better.