Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Godard, Revolution and Representation

Considering Jean-Luc Godard's Ici et Ailleurs (1974) as an 'in-between' point of view consisting of the "complex interweaving of spatio-temporalities and histories of 'us' (France) and 'them' (Palestine)", Emmelhainz goes on to claim that due to our existence in a multicultural realm of global in-betweenness and the closing gap between here and elsewhere by the media and the technologies of co-presence, such an in-between is no longer possible.[1] If we consider France and Palestine as symbols for "the West" and "the Orient", as the concepts defined by Edward Saïd in his works dealing with Orientalism, it would be almost naïve to believe that due to advancements in technology or raised awareness of global multiculturalism, such an 'in-between' would no longer be possible. If anything, what these developments would have caused is an even greater opportunity for the existence of such an in-between, if not the existence of many such in-betweens. While Emmelhainz might see the great divide between the east and west that would have existed in 1974 (a full four years before Saïd's seminal book was published) to be in less need of bridging by such a work as Godrad's Ici et Ailleurs in the present, one might argue that it is now, more than ever, that we are in need of such an 'in-between'. While it is true that advancements in media and technology give us the possibility of increased awareness, it also proportionally raises the possibility of a greater divide. As such, Godard's film can be seen as taking on a newfound importance and relevance. While in practice it presents us with the specific issues of a pre-Black September Palestinian revolution and a family in 1974 France, when taken in a broader sense, the film can be paradigmic of a plethora of situations, not restricted to Palestine or France, and as such can achieve some measure of universality. That being said, the film itself is still very much concerned with the Palestinian revolution as explored by Godard, so in this case, the matter of the specific is as important as the generic, with one complimenting the other and vice-versa. Considering this, I intend to show that Ici et Ailleurs doesn't only provide a look at the specific issue of the Palestinian struggle before Black September, but also makes a broader comment on the nature of representation, perception and the changing ideological perspectives in the aftermath of the massacre, which in turn provides a framework for articulating the issue while remaining true to its nature.

To do so, I shall first begin with a look at the form, content and thematic of the film, concentrating on both the audiovisual (image/sound) and textual (narration / dialogue / intertitles / other text appearing in film) elements used to develop some of the more prevalent themes throughout the work. As the film, in many cases, draws attention to itself and to the (filmic) medium in general, it is important to observe not only how this is done, but also how this is used to develop some of the themes that it explores. Following, I will observe how the form and themes support Goddard's view of not only the Palestinians' struggle, but also of how this struggle raises awareness of the particularities (flaws/benefits/techniques) of filmic (and other) mode(s) of representation.

To begin, one can explore some of the themes and the way they are supported by the form and content of Godard's Ici et Ailleurs. Emmelhainz draws attention to the French word "ET" (AND) that is carved out of Styrofoam and placed on a pedestal throughout the film, deeming it as "Godard's way out of the dialectic and of transforming Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein's dialectical montage by inducing an interstice in the chain of images, positing differences between unities without opposing them, or presenting them as sublating contraries".[2] Here, the visual representation of the verbal conjunction "AND", is not only used to link two unrelated images, thus breaking the Vertov/Eisensteinian dialectical montage of collision, which would apply had the different images not been separated by the third image of the word "ET", but also to create "differences between unities", separating two similar images. In addition to this visual linking, the fact that the object in question is a physical representation of a part of speech (the conjunction), further serves to create the textual link between the meanings of the two images separated by the word. By doing this, we no longer interpret an image of Richard Nixon[3] (United States president at the time), separated by a Styrofoam "ET" from an image of Leonid Brezhnev[4] (Soviet Union Communist party General Secretary at the time) as a mere linking of two images, but we further ascribe it the textual meaning of linking the two opposing heads of state. Of course, the fact that shortly before the film's release, Nixon and Brezhnev opened a new round of negotiations with Nixon's visit to Moscow in '72 and Brezhnev's visit to Washington in '73, gave the linking of the images using the word "AND" so much more significance. It now read "Nixon AND Brezhnev". Further, considering both superpowers' interests in the middle east, with the (official or otherwise) US's support of Israel and the USSR's support of the PLO[5], the image of the two supposedly opposed superpowers' leaders together would have called into question their respective support of the opposing factions in the region.

Emmelhainz's notion of a "chain of images" linked by a visual conjunction, no doubt echoing the voice-over narration which mentions the "uninterrupted chain of images, enslaving one another"[6] in Gordard's film, is further used to develop Godard's theme of combining images and sounds to form associative chains. As Bogue notes, this chain "assigns us our place"[7] in the "chain of events on which we have lost all power"[8]. Further, Bogue points out that the French word for chain ("chaîne") "has associations … with consumer and media culture – travail à la chaîne: assembly-line work; chaîne: [TV] channel"[9]. These linguistic associations with the word chain, linking it to mindless, robotic work and an almost "zombie-like" TV consumer media culture, are not only echoed visually in Godard's film (with the family watching TV, various shots of TV screens and the father's job loss) but are also the subject of debate in the film's critique of the associational qualities of film and media in general.

Bogue points to the juxtaposition of the Palestinian fighters and the French family watching TV which, according to him, "invites a propagandistic reading of this relation as one of an authentic, active and natural culture versus a media-saturated, passive, consumerist culture, just as the alternating stills of Hitler and Golda Meir suggest a facile equation of the two figures"[10]. Indeed, this suggested facile equation managed to generate just this kind of invited propagandistic reading of this relation: Loshitzky sees Godard's work in Ici et Ailleurs as a "naïve idealization of the PLO… accompanied by an anti-Israel position equating the Israeli retaliations against Jordan … with Nazi atrocities"[11]. She further goes on to characterize the use of the image of Israeli prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, combined with a voice-over of a Hitler speech as "verging on anti-Semitism", deeming the entire film and Godard's other political films as "extremely naïve … dogmatic" and infantilic in their approach to the East/West conflict. She continues by referring to the previously discussed associational linking as a "simplistic and horrifying equation" and further refers to the "simplistic and monstrous equation" of associating the capitalist system to the "Nazis' mass murder of Jews"[12]. Ignoring Loshitzky's political inclination and her (arguably) justified dismay at what she perceived to be a blatant and simplistic associational technique for propaganda, one can't help but note that the illustration of this issue in the film managed, at least in this case, to convince Loshitzky of the issue's purported veracity, thus proving Godard's point.

But as Bogue and the narrator in Godard's film both state, it is "too simple and too easy to simply divide the world in two,"[13] "too easy or too simple to say simply that the wealthy are wrong and the poor are right"[14] and that "there are no more simple images, only simple people, who will be forced to stay quiet, like an image."[15] The simplicity of association and equation of two images is instead "exposed" in Ici et Ailleurs, which shows the ease with which form can take meaning and invite a simple, direct reading, instead of a multiplicity of meanings and readings thereof. If anything, Loshitzky's critique of Godard's film is only a testament to this fact, and her simplistic reading only serves to further prove Godard's point. Having said this, one must recognize that this very interpretation, while allowing for a broader spectrum of readings and interpretations with respect to Ici et Ailleurs, can fall in the same "trap" of assigning it one absolute meaning, regardless of how open it might be, and we must recognize that such a reading must also include interpretations in the vein of Loshitzky's for it to retain at least a portion of its validity.

However, Drabinsky reminds us that Ici et Ailleurs is as much about "the fate of a certain kind of representation, under certain conditions, spatial and temporal – as it is about the political events documented."[16] According to him, Godard's act of filmmaking is "fractured by the unsaid image of death."[17] The dead Palestinians in Godard's film ("almost all the actors are dead"[18]) represent the Other, which is both "produced by a system of representation and what escapes from it."[19] The concept of the Other, the "elsewhere", is that which is produced (images of dead Palestinians) by the specific system of representation (in this case - film) but escapes from it (the Other is never "truly" represented). The fact that Godard "comes to name that Other" causes the image to fail and produces separation[20]. As such, in Ici et Ailleurs, "sound and image work and fail to work in important ways, and in that sense become a philosophical language abused by staggered movements and non-movements of [their own appearance]," rendering Godard's cinema "a philosophical language against presence, coincidence, dialectics, and any coherence of representation."[21] Further, is this representation of the Other, in Godard's own "philosophical language", directed at an audience with the intention to be assimilated or with the intention of making this audience aware of its mode of representation?

This, in turn, begs the question of whether or not we (as spectators) are the possible spectators for these films, "are we really that minority to whom these images are addressed?"[22] Are we meant to consume the image of the Other, of the dead Palestinians from "elsewhere", or does that make us complicit with the French family that is juxtaposed with these very images of the Other? Daney attempts to provide several tongue-in-cheek answers to this question, asking if Godard's film should be presented to "the general public eager for sensation (Godard + Palestine = scoop)? To the politically aware anxious to be confirmed in its orthodoxy (Godard + Palestine = good cause + art)? To the PLO who invited him, allowed him to film and trusted him (Godard + Palestine = weapon of propaganda)?"[23] None of the options are satisfactory, however, and it is ultimately Toubiana that points out that what Ici et Ailleurs asks us to do is "to disentangle the notion of spectator activity, of the spectator at work, to make our vision sharper – avoiding the pitfalls of semiology, the distortions of any would-be scientific approach – so as to recover the true logic of the cinema which consists in looking and doing, in listening and recognizing images and sounds, working all the while on our own account."[24] It is indeed this spectator, "working all the while on their own account" that would seem to be the most able to raise to the awareness of the constructed nature of meaning through representation and above a readiness of assimilation with an ideological framework.

Finally, "the film offers an implicit rethinking of images through their isolation, their disconnection from conventional chains and their reconnection in unorthodox series", through "stills of documentary footage of Palestinian corpses, worker's demonstrations and Holocaust victims interjected in unexpected patterns throughout the film" separated by "AND", it eventually leads to this "rethinking of the meaningful differences that pertain to the violence that extends from the Russian revolution to the present" to the point that at the close of the film, "the circle of soldiers in quiet conversation and the French family watching TV has lost its clear ideological bearings."[25] Ultimately, the spectator no longer sees a clear contrast between the French family and the Fedayeen, nor do they see the associational linking of Golda Meir and Hitler's speech or Nixon and Brezhnev. As discussed, while Ici et Ailleurs does present the spectator with this mode of representation, it ultimately does so for the purpose of making them aware of it. Further, this awareness is instead intended to show how easily these images can be presented in order to invoke a certain reaction or ideological reading thereof. Here, the spectator can (or at least should) also see that while these images, sounds and words are used to illustrate this point, they can also (and are also) used to convey the political events which they document, encouraging the spectator's rethinking of both the images and the way they are presented, instead of an "all-too-easy" readiness of assimilation through an ideological framework (although not denying the possibility of such a reading). In conclusion, Ici et Ailleurs provides not only the specific account of the Fedayeen prior to Black September, but also the broader issue of the choice of representation for this subject which applies to a wide range of issues beyond the specific one presented in the film. As such, Godard gives a kind of universal quality to the subjects of his film, forever ascribing to their image a meaning that can be sustained across time, geography and culture, and, one can only hope, is but a humble and appropriate memorial in their honour.

[1] Emmelhainz, Irmgard. "From Third Worldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine Question." Third Text 23, no. 5 (September 2009): 655.

[2] Ibid. 651

[3] Ici et Ailleurs. Directed by Jean Luc Godard, 1974, (00'14'34")

[4] Ibid. (00'14'40")

[5] Golan, Galia. " The Soviet Union and the PLO since the War in Lebanon." Middle East Journal 40, no. 2 (Spring 1968):285.

[6] Ici et Ailleurs, 1974 (00'35'57")

[7] Bogue, Ronald. "Search, Swim and See: Deleuze's Apprenticeship in Signs and Pedagogy of Images." In Deleuze's way: essays in transverse ethics and aesthetics, (Burlington, VT, USA; Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 65

[8] Ici et Ailleurs, 1974 (00'37'37")

[9] Bogue, 2007, 65

[10] Ibid., 66

[11] Loshitzky, Yosefa. "A New Turn: The Collaboration with Miéville." In The radical faces of Godard and Bertolucci. (Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1995), 49.

[12] Ibid. 50

[13] Ici et Ailleurs, 1974 (00'14'36")

[14] Ibid., (00'14'50")

[15] Ibid., (00'35'30")

[16] Drabinski, John. “Separation, Difference, and Time in Godard’s Ici et ailleurs” SubStance #155, Vol.

37, No. 1, 2008. 152.

[17] Ibid,. 152.

[18] Ici et Ailleurs, 1974 (00'09'04")

[19] Reynaud, Bérénice."Introduction" In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), 38

[20] Drabinski, 2008, 155

[21] Ibid.

[22] Toubiana, Serge."A matter of chance" In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), 108

[23] Daney, Serge."Theorize/Terrorize (Godardian Pedagogy)" In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), 121

[24] Toubiana, 2000, 109.

[25] Bogue, 2007, 66


Bogue, Ronald. "Search, Swim and See: Deleuze's Apprenticeship in Signs and Pedagogy of Images." In Deleuze's way: essays in transverse ethics and aesthetics, 53-68. Burlington, VT, USA; Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2007.

Daney, Serge. "Theorize/Terrorize (Godardian Pedagogy)." In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, 116-123. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000.

Drabinski, John. "Separation, Difference, and Time in Godard’s Ici et ailleurs." SubStance #115, 37, no. 1 (2008): 148-159.

Emmelhainz, Irmgard. "From Third Worldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine Question." Third Text 23, no. 5 (September 2009): 649 - 656.

Ici et Ailleurs. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Gaumont, 1974.

Golan, Galia. "The Soviet Union and the PLO since the War in Lebanon." Middle East Journal 40, no. 2 (Spring, 1968): 285-305.

Loshitzky, Yosefa. "A New Turn: The Collaboration with Miéville." In The radical faces of Godard and Bertolucci, 49-53. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

Reynaud, Bérénice. "Introduction." In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, 1-44. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000.

Toubiana, Serge. "A matter of chance." In Cahiers du cinéma: volume four, 1973-1978 : history, ideology, cultural Struggle, edited by David Wilson and Bérénice Reynaud, 105-110. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree and Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers

The rule of law (or perceived rule of the perceived law) functions as a framework in both Eran Riklis' 2008 Lemon Tree and in Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 Battle of Algiers. While on the surface Battle of Algiers appears to be a so called 'even' portrayal of the events in the Algerian capital prior to independence, it serves to expose several elements that are later applied in occupied Palestine to legitimize the occupation, elements which are largely ignored and even perpetuated by Lemon Tree. The first, legitimization of violence, exemplified by the Colonel Matheiu character in Battle of Algiers ("We've requested a carte blanche, but that's very difficult to obtain. Therefore, it's necessary to find an excuse to legitimize our intervention and make it possible. It's necessary to create this for ourselves, this excuse."[1]) is further expanded upon and criticized in Eyal Weizman's essay dealing with the concept of "lawfare" where he explains the ways in which modern International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is used to justify violence[2]. As opposed to its use in Battle of Algiers, where the concept was presented as a perverse military tactic, in Lemon Tree it is presented as a catalyst of violence instead of what it really is, that is, the justification thereof. While still taking a negative role in the overall plot of the film, the justification (possible security threat of the lemon tree orchard) of the violence (cutting down the lemon trees) is presented as the catalyst for said violence (it is what sparks Hiam Abbass's character, Salma to go on her legal battle). As such, it displaces the justification of violence to the role of plot device, instead of an actual issue to be dealt with, thus diffusing its importance and avoiding the larger meaning thereof. This can be regarded as another instance of Israeli cinema's tendency to "mirror and reassert cultural and political concepts that stand in the way of any sustainable solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict."[3]

The other concept explored and exposed in Battle of Algeirs is the (illusion of the) rule of law. The Colonel Matheiu character is again employed in a way that exposes the illusion of law in a military situation when he asks if they should question suspects "like the courts, taking a few months" (and promptly reminded by a reporter that "the law's often inconvenient"[4]). Lemon Tree on the other hand, takes the matter of the law literally, and gives us the illusion of justice as presented first in the regional and then Supreme Court, with Salma appealing the military's decision. While operating within a legal system would present an image of justice, the film is ignorant to the politics behind the court's decision and we can only infer the influence the defense minster character (Doron Tavory) would have had over this decision. Thus, Salma's experience with the judicial system not only displaces responsibility of Navon's actions to an impersonal bureaucracy, much in the same way that the one way mirror system would have done at the Allenby Bridge terminal[5] but also displaces Salma's struggle from that of a Palestinian woman fighting for her orchard with the Israeli occupier, to simply that of a woman fighting for her orchard, avoiding and subverting it from a "concrete reality"[6].

As such, Lemon Tree functions as an Israeli film that earnestly tries to bridge the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but ultimately (and most likely unintentionally) does little more than dramatize and displace it to an escapist emotional nether-realm to be consumed by an audience willing to face said issue but not willing to have to deal with it.

[1] The Battle of Algiers. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966, (00'58'16")

[2] Weizman, Eyal. “Lawfare in Gaza: Legislative Attack.” Open Democracy (March 2009). (Accessed 24 November 2009).

[3] Naaman, Dorit. “Elusive Frontiers: Borders in Israeli and Palestinian Cinemas.” Third Text, Vol. 20, Issue 3/4, May/July, 2006. 511.

[4] The Battle of Algiers., 1966, (1'30'23")

[5] Weizman, Eyal. “Checkpoints: The Split Sovereign and the One-Way Mirror.” Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation. London; New York: Verso, 2007. 139-159.

[6] Naaman, 2006, 513

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention

Suleiman's Divine Intervention uses the concept of Foucault's "effective history" to transform the "historian's history" that the nationalistic nation-state uses to assert its validity into a different form of time which challenges it. Suleiman does this using both the narrative and the form of Divine Intervention.

As he explains in the interview, by discovering nonlinear cinema and using this mode of narration to advance his story, he is expressing his resentment to the "usual mode of representation" that he associates with the "falsity in the way that … many films are constructed"[1]. He describes this usual mode of representation in which many films are constructed as "films that on the surface looked harmless, but in fact were proposing a hidden political platform, an equivalency"[2]. In order to avoid conforming to this mode of representation, he breaks down linearity with both his non-linear structure (often different parts of the story are not presented in the chronological order that they would have happened) but also in the melding of reality and dream-imagery. While the story advances, some scenes (like the scene where E.S. arranges post-it notes on his wall with descriptions of the other scenes in the film) imply not only that some scenes in the film might be part of a fiction defined by another part of the film, but also that their linearity is constantly changing as E.S. rearranges the notes on his wall. In this sense, this is a quite literal visual illustration of Foucault's transformation of history into a totally different form of time.

Regarding the discourse around nation states and nationalism, Suleiman uses both the withholding of information (like the identity of Manal Khader's character and her relationship to E.S.) and the overabundance of thereof to the point of fantasy (as in the Palestinian ninja sequence and tank explosion) to illustrate his point. When discussing the concept and importance of silence in his film, Suleiman points out that he uses it not only for politics ("silence is very political – what it conveys depends on how you use it"[3]) but also for providing his opinion on the matter and its causes ("silence shows a breakdown of communication"[4]) and allowing the viewer to express their own ("Silence allows space for the spectator", "it allows the potentiality for the spectator to participate, to co-produce the image"[5]). As such, he not only provides an alternative to the discourse on nation-states/nationalism, but he also leaves the possibility for the viewer to add their own opinion to the discourse. Essentially the lack of information/silence is Suleiman's way of telling us that not saying/refraining from saying something can very well function as a political tool, and that the viewer should question lack of information in the same way they would the presence thereof. Further, the "breakdown of communication" shows that what is communicated in one way is not necessarily the way that it appears and might in fact function in a different way than it would seem. Often breakdown of communication is used, in Divine Intervention to express the banality of the situation (such as the tourist asking for directions and the blind prisoner providing them) which in turns shows the banality of the discourse itself. Finally, the silence that allows the spectator to participate, in addition to involving them in the decision making process of meaning, opens the door for the existence of this possibility to begin with. It essentially puts the spectator in a position where they are able not only to question what is on the screen, but further draw their own conclusions and form their own opinion on the matter (as opposed to blindly 'assimilating' opinions expressed in the film, if not straight out accepting them).

Finally, the form of Divine Intervention allows Suleiman to express his view of the Palestine that transcends a mere geopolitical entity or a nationalistic idea[6]. The fantastic imagery gives way to an abstraction of idea through form that is all encompassing. Suleiman's Palestine is in essence the entirety of the Palestinian people, their wishes, dreams, aspirations, fantasies, culture, art, hearts, souls and ninjas. It is, quite simply put, an abstract but real, an imagined but remembered, a state but not a state, a reality but also a dream, a 'Palestine'.

[1] "The Occupation (and Life) through an Absurdist Lens” The Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 23 No. 2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 66

[2] Ibid., 67

[3] Ibid., 68

[4] Ibid., 68

[5] Ibid., 69

[6] Ibid., 73

Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now

The importance in constructing a narrative around the contested identity of the suicide bomber lies primarily in the need to contextualize the phenomena within the historical continuum of a people's struggle for self-determination. That is, the very existence of suicide bombing in the larger context of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is in itself a reason for constructing a narrative not only because it allows for better understanding of said struggle, but because in most cases it is used to discredit it.[1] This narrative, as presented in Paradise Now, is heavily linked to the main character's (Sayeed) melancholy following his father's collaboration with the occupier. While this does not by itself constitute a political act (in fact it removes the act of the suicide bombing entirely from the political realm) it serves to "suggest that there is no master narrative of suicide bombing" and that the melancholia that caused it is ultimately linked to the political realm because it is one of the "emotional precipitators" caused by status occupation.[2] Indeed, without the "imaginative and empathizing" process set forth by Paradise Now or its dialogue and contemplative manner of "condemnation that passes through understanding"[3], the viewer cannot determine the degree of their own complicity and involvement in the matter. [4]

But providing this kind of narrative for suicide bombings is not enough to achieve this effect on the viewer. Gana's call for the collapse of the spectacle, which in this context means the failure to present suicide bombings in a manner that is "pandering … to audiences’ unwitting lust for melodramas, intrigues, kinesthetic thrills, and technically sophisticated stunts, dazzles, or visual gags"[5] is what ultimately "uncoercively persuades viewers to suspend their judgment and begin [the process] of self-reflexivity, which might ultimately lead them to the discovery of complicity".[6] Gana provides two examples for this from Paradise Now, namely the breakdown of the camera while filming the farewell speech and the mention of the martyr video rental business. These two examples serve to demonstrate the collapse of the visual medium (film) with which the spectacle (of violence and terrorism), is linked, and by extension, the collapse of the spectacle itself.[7]

While Gana's essay brings up valid points both in terms of the spectacle and the contextualizing of suicide resistance in the historical continuum of narrative nationhood, it commits the fallacy of conforming to this same spectacle itself. For instance, the large portion of statistics regarding the Palestinian death toll from the intifada, through the 2002 Jenin massacre and all the way up to 2004 when Paradise Now was being filmed, which specifically breaks down the list of stats to children, women and elderly casualties, heavily dramatizes the issue only to diffuse it later by stating that Abu-Assad does not opt for this kind of dramatization.[8] Similarly, by referring to violations of human rights, mention of the International Court at the Hague, the European Region of Humanist International, the UN humanitarian fact sheet, the statistics about demolitions and the "facts on the ground"[9] it engages in the very illusion of mimetic realism that it later claims Paradise Now breaks down. In this sense, I am inclined to agree with the text's overall thesis, but at the same time am taking into account the fact that this thesis might not operate within the context from which it presents itself to be operating from, and is in some way hindered by the very elements which it criticizes. As such, it is essential to be able to consider Gana's work in a manner similar to the one that Paradise Now should be considered, that is, one that challenges perception while constituting politics.

[1] Nouri, Gana. “Reel Violence: Paradise Now and the Collapse of the Spectacle.” Comparative Studies of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2008, 25.

[2] Ibid., 34

[3] Ibid., 26

[4] Ibid., 37

[5] Ibid., 20

[6] Ibid., 37

[7] Ibid., 36

[8] Ibid., 29

[9] Ibid., 28-29

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paradise Now, Curfew and Divine Intervention

As Palestinian films, both Abu-Assad's Paradise Now and Masharawi's Curfew convey the Palestinian "experience" through "a reality of distress and siege, of a perpetual hopeless downfall"[1]. In Paradise Now, the presence of the broken cars, references to water filters and general decay under the occupation serve as a backdrop for the events that eventually lead to Said (Kais Nashif's character) boarding a bus full of IDF soldiers. We never see an explosion, and much of his motivation derives largely from his feelings following his father's collaboration with the occupier than rather what indoctrination him and Khaled (Ali Suliman) might have been subjected to. As such, Paradise Now diffuses what spectacle could have been derived from a film dealing with suicide bombers, and as Nouri Gana notes, obstructs the "consumption of reel violence" while placing suicide resistance in the "historical continuum of narrative nationhood"[2]. But while the film avoids the spectacle, it nevertheless shares the common theme of the perpetual hopeless downfall that is so prevalent in Curfew. Together, the films function to define the image of a nation under occupation, an image which is used not only arouse sympathy (in a somewhat similar manner to the IRA's "sympathy through failure" strategy[3]) but more importantly in defining a blueprint for representing Palestinians as a people united in the face of the occupation.

By contrast, Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention not only revels in the spectacle, it further goes against the very image established in Abu-Assad's and Masharawi's films. Granted, his film is set in Nazareth and Jerusalem, which are part of Israel proper and as such not subjected to the same difficulties that the characters in Paradise Now or Curfew might have been dealing with, but the image of Palestinians is nevertheless very different. No longer does one see this unified people in the face of an oppressor, but rather, Suleiman's Palestinians fight among themselves, expressing "frustrations that start to be unleashed against each other"[4]. While Suleiman does point out that this might be a particularity of Palestinians living in Israel as opposed to the West Bank, he also mentions that it is symptomatic to ghettos in general. Suleiman's departure from the norm of representing the nation under siege is perhaps better articulated in an earlier interview with him from 2000, where he talks of his attempts to "deconstruct [the] imposed national image" through which he tries to produce "something beyond a static ideological position, beyond the ideological definition or representation of what it is to be a Palestinian"[5].

It is perhaps this attempt that exemplifies the dichotomy that is Suleiman's work as a Palestinian director (and more broadly, that of other directors associated with a national cinema). On one hand, his work is distinctly Palestinian, dealing with Palestinian people and Palestinian matters, on the other hand, he does not deal with this in a manner which became a signature of Palestinian cinema though the works of directors such as Abu-Assad and Masharawi. This is the paradox that every national cinema is faced with but which it must ultimately overcome in order to transcend a cinema ruled by one or a handful of typical images exemplifying the nation, towards becoming a cinema rife with a multitude of dissonant voices, together forming the nation which they are part of, instead of the nation which they are "supposed" to be part of. Considering this, Elia Suleiman is perhaps one of the most valuable directors of Palestinian national cinema on its path to assert itself not only among other national cinemas, but also among other nations.

[1] Nurith, Gertz, George Khleifi. “Without Place, Without Time: The Films of Rashid Masharawi.” Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. 117

[2] Nouri, Gana. “Reel Violence: Paradise Now and the Collapse of the Spectacle.” Comparative Studies of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2008, 37

[3] Richard Kearney, "The IRA's Strategy of Failure." The Crane Bag, M. Hederman and Richard Kearney, eds., (Dublin: Wolfhound, 1982), 700-702

[4] "The Occupation( (and Life) through an Absurdist Lens” The Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 23 No. 2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 70

[5] “A Cinema of Nowhere: An Interview with Elia Suleiman.” Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 29 No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 99.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John Greyson's 14.3 Seconds

As a faux-documentary, Greyson's 14.3 Seconds can be deceiving in its depiction of a history that never was. However, taking into consideration Foucault's ideas in "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", Greyson's film takes on a new meaning and becomes a kind of example for some of the notions presented by Foucault. In building an essentially "false" history with the archive footage, Greyson illustrates, in film, Foucault's "historian's history"'s breakdown and ultimate failure in providing an adequate means of both understanding the present and of establishing a notion of origin for this present. His "archival footage" represents the "historian's history", rooted in clear facts, dates and pieces of film. These artifacts, which seem to be telling a clear story on the surface, are gradually destabilized by an increasingly dubious array of explanations that make us question not only the explanations themselves, but also the artifacts supporting them. The constant censorship which grows inconsistent (things are censored that were not censored earlier in the film) and the increasingly dramatic story about the interpreter and officer in charge of the restoration not only make us question their authenticity, but also the authenticity of the footage. As such, Greyson, like Foucault, draws attention to the inherent failure of a narrative-style history, which can not only be manipulated by the historian, but also fails to show all facets of a situation in an effort to be more concise and to the point.

This point is further expanded upon and linked to the Palestinian struggle, in Godard's Ici et Ailleurs, which mixes documentary and scripted sequences, along with narration and Brechtian techniques. Here again, documentary techniques such as interviews or seemingly unscripted documentary footage is deconstructed by both narration (as in the scene where the narrator informing us that the woman that was presented as pregnant is actually an actress) and by blatant association with images that evoke certain feelings that might be sought out by the director. The parallels between the French family and the Palestinian revolutionaries serve to create compassion for the Palestinians, and the ones between Hitler and Golda Meir to create negative connotations of Israel. Godard makes us aware of these "manipulatory" techniques and is essentially showing the ease with which images, ideas and ultimately history, can be manipulated to suit any number of needs. As such, Ici et Ailleurs functions as both "a melancholic morning-after" of a "failed and betrayed revolution"[1] and an illustration of Foucault's take on Nietzsche's genealogical view of history.

Together, these films provide a blueprint for looking at Palestinian film in the context of a historical background that is not tainted (or at least not as tainted) by a specific political drive in an otherwise highly politicized environment. That being said, the very depoliticization of an issue can in fact be considered a political stance on its own, so instead of looking at Palestinian film without a political viewpoint, one would better be served by merely being aware of the different dissonant voices of history which consequently invoke one political view or another. This awareness, combined with the awareness of the manipulatory aspects of film, can not only grant us a better understanding of Palestinian film but can help further contextualize material which is presented in an already extremely polarized context. And while it might seem odd that a Canadian and a Frenchman could in some way contribute to the better understanding of a national cinema that belongs to either filmmaker's nation, it is perhaps this very distance from the subject matter that grants them a much needed perspective - a perspective which might otherwise be hard to achieve from within "the trenches" of said nation.

[1] Emmelhainz, Irmgard. “From Third Worldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine

Question.”, p5


14.3 Seconds. Directed by John Greyson, 2008.

Emmelhainz, Irmgard. "From Third Worldism to Empire: Jean-Luc Godard and the Palestine Question." Third Text 23, no. 5 (September 2009): 649 - 656.

Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" In The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rainbow, 76-100 . New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Ici et Ailleurs. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Gaumont, 1974.