(photo credit: Courtesy)
Judging from its title, Erez Tadmor’s Wounded Land might sound like a highly appropriate film to be released in Israel in 2016. But although the movie aims high, trying to tell a profound story about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and the fissures within Israeli society, it gets bogged down in clichés and inexplicably sloppy plotting.
It plays as if several drafts of a screenplay were somehow melded together without anyone reading over the final script. That’s a surprise because Tadmor, who won the Best Director Ophir Award for this film, is one of Israel’s more successful directors. His previous films – among them A Matter of Size (2009), about heavy Israelis who become sumo wrestlers; Magic Men (2014), about an estranged father and son who bond when they visit the father’s homeland, Greece; and Strangers (2007), a romance between an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman who meet in Europe – were carefully made and very well done.
At first, Wounded Land seems as if it is going to be about police corruption, as the movie follows a police investigation into corruption at the port in Haifa. Kobi Amar (Roy Assaf, who won the Ophir Award for Best Actor) is a straight-arrow police officer. He has an uneasy relationship with his commander Yehuda Neumann (Dvir Benedek), who lives in a mansion that no honest civil servant could afford.
Yehuda wants to be a mentor to Kobi, but Kobi does not want to be associated too closely with Yehuda.
Their relationship is complicated by the fact that they have sons around the same age in after-school activities together, and their families get together socially. Kobi’s wife would love to live in the kind of house Yehuda and his family have.
All of this is just background to the main plot, which gets under way when a Palestinian terrorist (Tawfeek Barhoum, who starred in Eran Riklis’s A Borrowed Identity) sets off a bomb attack in the city. He is badly wounded in the attack, and a number of people are killed. Kobi and Yehuda are involved in investigating the attack. At the same time, neither can make contact with their sons, who were on their way to a martial arts competition.
This might sound like a perfect set-up for a politically charged thriller. But at this point, just when it should be getting interesting, the story loses its momentum. Kobi is stationed in the waiting room of the emergency room, and the movie gets derailed by a subplot about the anger the victims’ families feel over the fact that the terrorist is being treated at the same hospital as their loved ones by senior physicians. Kobi has to explain that everyone deserves medical attention, even a terrorist.
But the crowd gets ugly and violent.
An Arab doctor (Makram J. Khoury) is attacked. Kobi takes it upon himself to hide the terrorist from the mob, which involves moving him to a deserted part of the hospital, although he is critically wounded and would presumably need to be in a sterile environment and hooked up to life-support machines. Feature films can sometimes get away with some poetic license, but these distortions of reality don’t seem to have any point.
The emotions of the crowd at the hospital seem familiar and real, but nothing else does. Hospital staffs around Israel are all too familiar with what to do after a terror attack. I had a friend who was wounded in one, and the hospital personnel could not have been more efficient in dealing with distraught family and friends.
The actors, especially Roy Assaf, who can be brilliant when he has a good script, as he was in God’s Neighbors, do the best they can.
While the situation of two fathers waiting for news about their sons’ fates is inherently dramatic, the clumsy plotting obscures the suspense. The movie seems to be setting up some kind of morality play involving these characters, one corrupt and one innocent, who both fear for their children, as well as making a plea against mob justice and collective punishment.
But the clichés, distortions of reality and subplots that go nowhere take away any impact Wounded Land might have had.