I don’t like films about Palestine. They are usually full of clichés and stereotypes, anticipating Western audiences’ reactions and playing up to their preconceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They often romanticise Palestinians and paint them in the simplistic view of a righteous victim — which is exactly the opposite of how we are represented in the media. The brave Palestinian protagonist struggles over adversity, yet there is never any resolution that is realistic. It’s not a fairy-tale and it will not end in the hero or heroine saving the day, liberating Palestine, or whatever’s left of it…
Palestinian films are hardly the material of Hollywood blockbusters, but many have attempted that simplistic formula, that is everything that is wrong with Hollywood, to gain audiences. Fair enough, but most Palestinian films I’ve seen were forgettable caricatures of people or events I may have come across in real life. And real life was much more vibrant, tragic and comic all rolled into one and much more complex. My problem with Palestinian films is that they do not really depict everyday life, behind all those tragic scenes people cut their fingers making breakfast for their children, get stuck in traffic as they drive to see friends, brew coffee and spill half of it on the hob because their minds are elsewhere. Most films I’ve seen never go into those little delicious sensory details that make something believable and makes the audience connect with the person, not because they’re Palestinian, but because they’re a wonderful character that could have been anyone of those people sitting in the cinema had they been born somewhere else.
Reviewers and critics think they are doing Palestinian films a favour by being nice. But the thing is, when a really good film comes along, the reviewers who called wolf so many times before on other ‘wonderful’ Palestinian films are not believable. I don’t believe them because what I get from their words is a patronising pat on the head, ‘good girl, even though you’re Palestinian you can still make something of yourself, there’s a civilized person in you yet’. It reminds me of one of my bullies at school. Whenever I said something intelligent in class she turned to me with wide yes and said ‘Wow, Margo’ in an incredibly surprised voice incredulous that there was a ticking mind behind my usual timidity.
But aren’t reviews supposed to help the artist hone their skill? Too much adulation and everyone would be running around like Damien Hirst making more terrible art that no one understands and that no one has the courage to say they don’t understand because that would make them seem to look stupid. What’s wrong with simply saying I like something or I don’t like something and then go into the details of why it worked and why it didn’t?
Most of the Palestinian films I’ve seen, I went to see out of curiosity, but they left me empty, because they never felt real. But then I remember they were not talking to me, a Palestinian, rather to an already sympathetic audience. Instead of making something that challenged audiences’ views of Palestine, even those who support the Palestinian cause, films are made so that solidarity groups can huddle around indignantly talking about the evilness of Israel afterwards. And so many films, instead of being a film about Palestine, quickly turn into films against Israel. I suppose, I should be a bit more lenient here, as inevitably, the conflict comes trailing in, but my point is that I want a film to stand up to the stereotypes and create a positive impetus to help the situation. Making it all about Israel all the time, doesn’t help in one bit.
A successful film evokes your senses, makes you laugh and cry and keeps you engaged with the film long after you’ve seen it. 5 Broken Cameras did that for me. I loved the familiarity of the landscape and the blueness of the sky. I could almost smell the first rain after a long spell of dry weather and the echo of the call to prayer around the hills transported me for a moment into the screen. What I loved most of all was the honesty of the people, their vulnerability, their courage despite the knowledge that they were almost always in mortal danger, their silliness and optimism, their vanity and dramatics. But what really got me in the end was the tragedy of seeing the inner child in grown men die and knowing that small children were already too grown up bar some fleeting moments of playfulness.
At the bus stop outside Edinburgh’s Filmhouse afterwards, I broke down looking for change in my purse. I held it together as much as I could as I left the cinema, but in the end, the absurdity of a poster giving tourists step-by-step directions about how to use Lothian Buses made me start to laugh hysterically, which inevitably turned into sobs. In the end, films, as any good piece of art, are supposed to affect us deeply, remind us what life is about and the fragility of it all, knock us into remembering not to take things for granted, give us something to think about as we contemplate who we are and what our purpose is in this world and eventually, make us thankful for what’s great in our lives and motivate us to get up and do something constructive, even if it is just hanging up the washing.