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Life of terror 

Israeli-Palestinian conflict colors Jewish film fest

Americans have been living under terrorism's grip for the past several years, but Israelis and Palestinians have been grappling with it for decades. That timely issue weighs heavily on this year's Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

The fourth annual festival concludes with two memorable films about how terrorism shapes daily lives and takes a spiritual toll on the Israelis and Palestinians living amid violence.

If Judy Blume had written a coming- of-age novel set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it might have looked like director Omri Levy's Miss Entebbe.

Three adolescent friends spend the summer of 1976 eagerly waiting for the next episode of "The Six Million Dollar Man," dreaming up activities to break up their lazy days, and, in 13-year-old Noa's (Merav Abrahami) case, praying that her parents don't divorce. But the hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris carrying a friend's mother brings the summer's languor to a dramatic end. The diversion of the flight by terrorists to Entebbe, Uganda, leaves an entire nation glued to the television, holding their breath.

Taking a cue from their parents, who keep Uzis in their homes and can barely achieve a peaceable accord between husband and wife, the children parrot global politics when they kidnap the son of an Arab janitor in retaliation. They reason that if they can get their staged photos of the kid bound and gagged with an Uzi to his head to the press, they can trade one Arab kid for the plane full of Israeli hostages in Entebbe.

Miss Entebbe has the molasses rhythm of adolescent summers and conveys some of the absurdity of childhood schemes and thought processes. It's a film about terrorism's impact on individual lives, which is equally concerned with budding hormones and domestic strife. Although it's engaging, it's never as eye-opening as the documentary My Terrorist.

Yulie Cohen-Gerstel's film takes a far more complicated approach to the cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It offers a deeply felt, personal response to terror that rarely registers on the television news and politician-dominated Richter scale of raging invective and cries for revenge.

In 1978, Cohen-Gerstel was a flight attendant aboard a bus with her fellow El Al flight attendants in London headed for their hotel layover. When she locked eyes with a furious-looking man also on the bus, in an instant she knew that he was there to kill someone. One flight attendant was killed, and Cohen-Gerstel was wounded in the subsequent explosion.

Twenty-three years later, the filmmaker begins to wonder about the man who created all of that violence those decades ago and now sits in a British prison, hoping for parole. When she writes to him, she is answered with stationary emblazoned with the image of a peaceful dove and the Palestinian terrorist's renunciation of violence. Terrorist and victim alike agree that the only way to mend the horrific divide between Israel and the Palestinians is to break the chain of violence, and Cohen-Gerstel decides to help her terrorist gain parole.

The film becomes a moving document to the many complicated emotions that emerge in the wake of tragedy. Every action has consequences, and too many of those entail the kind of strike-back violence that only continues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cohen-Gerstel believes.

Cohen-Gerstel comes across as a deeply affecting, ordinary heroine who transforms from a terrorist victim and one-time soldier to a peace activist. This respectful, ruminative film listens to the grief expressed by a mother who lost her teenage daughter to terrorists even as it charts Cohen-Gerstel's own wavering belief that fighting fear and hate is as much an individual crucible as a national one.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

My Terrorist screens Sun., Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. Miss Entebbe screens the same day at 7:30 p.m.

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