Conflict is the heart of cinema. Conflict drives the plot and draws the audience, and practically every movie revolves around it. Yet, only a select few have the audacity to dive into what fuels that conflict and, to borrow a line from The Rules of the Game, understand that “the awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.”
Every character in Bethlehem has their reasons, and that is what makes the Israel-Palestine conflict so tragic and confounding. Centered around the tense relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer, Razi (Tsahi Halevi), and his young Palestinian informant, Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), Bethlehem doesn’t ask why do Israel and Palestine fight, but why do these men fight?
The relationship between Razi and Sanfur is one of control. Razi picked Sanfur not just because his older brother is responsible for murdering 30 Israelis but because Razi figures that Sanfur is set to be the next leader of the Palestinian Resistance. Sanfur is young, and his aspirations are much more scattershot, continuing to run his own schemes—defiantly under Razi’s nose—proving to himself and everyone around him that he is, and will be, the alpha male.
Razi and Sanfur’s plight is further complicated thanks to the setting of Bethlehem, a territory governed by the Palestinian Authority with subgroups like Hamas and Al-Asqua’s Martyrs operating under their own agendas. This disconnect is beautifully depicted in one scene where soldiers from different factions fight over who gets to bury a fellow martyr. It is an aggravating scene to watch because everyone in the room is missing the point that a man has died. But look at Bethlehem in its entirety. Death isn’t the point at all. It’s who gets the credit.
Directed by Yuval Adler, ex-Israeli army intelligence, and co-written by Ali Waked, a Muslim journalist—their two voices bring an intentional unease to Bethlehem. Adler and Waked find strength by providing both of their leads with equal weight, proving that everybody has their reasons.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is complex, and Adler and Waked don’t even attempt to unravel and streamline it. Instead, they complicate it further by adding layers of deceit and confusion until the entire conflict is seen as the product of masculine posturing and puffed chests. There may be ancient reasons that started this conflict, but what continues to this day is a never-ending cycle of violence.
Directed by Yuval Adler
Written by Yuval Adler, Ali Wakad
Produced by Sébastien Delloye, Diana Elbaum, Sonja Ewers, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Steve Hudson, Talia Kleinhendler
Starring: Tsahi Halevi, Shadi Mar’i, Hitham Omari, Tarik Kopty, George Iskandar
Adopt Films, Not rated, Running time 93, Premiered Aug. 28, 2013 at the Venice Film Festival.
A version of the above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 32, “Diving into a sticky situation.”
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