So balanced it falls flat

"Blood and Tears" derives its name from Rabin's famous peace speech on the White House lawn.

rabin-arafat shake 88 (photo credit: )
rabin-arafat shake 88
(photo credit: )
Movies are fake. Newspapers and magazines are biased. News anchors all have an agenda. But, as an antidote to all that illusion, there are documentaries. And documentaries tell the truth. They give you the real story. The Facts. Right. Well, fortunately for the residents of this troubled region and the world at large, finally a documentary has come along that will "reveal the true history of the Arab-Israeli conflict." In just 75 minutes, Blood and Tears, which plays today at noon at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, will guide you through a century of history, "uncovering the truth behind the hype and headlines of the day's events." What a relief. Naturally, this bombastic press release begs one especially obvious and simple question. Which truth? Or, rather, whose truth? The two parties to this conflict do not share a common truth. Their truths are often quite contradictory. The trick up director Isadore Rosmarin's sleeve is to present both truths. Often one right after the other. And then make no effort to untangle which is more accurate. An example, were there people here when the early Zionists arrived? Well, set against sweeping black and white images of empty desert, we get columnist Joseph Farah quoting Mark Twain to the effect that it was a desolate and unpopulated wasteland. Immediately after, Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi eloquently explains in his booklined office how the notion of "a land without people for a people without a land" was flawed from the outset because the land was indeed well populated. There follow images of Arabs working the land. Then we move on. The audience here gets very agitated. The uninformed throw up their hands and conclude that, as suspected, this whole thing is a balagan after all. The informed, whatever their political bent, demand more facts that support their version of events so that the uninformed will come around and share it. Blood and Tears is intended as an introductory digest to make the whole story comprehensible to an American audience. So introductory that it resorts to defining Judaism, Christianity and Islam and putting these definitions on the screen. Yet the result of this so-called evenhandedness or absence of bias is to provoke a strange calculus of trying to decipher whom it favors. Trying to measure the relative number of minutes given to each side, the relative amount of cubic centimeters of blood shown shed by each side, the relative amount of qualitative suffering. As far as the above, it seemed like a wash. But there are trickier questions. Most of the Palestinians interviewed spoke in English but were given subtitles. Most of the Jews interviewed spoke perfect, unsubtitled English. Does this make the Jews look more familiar and palatable to Western audiences? Or does it make them look more like American interlopers who have unjustifiably settled on other peoples' land? The fact that this is worth investigating testifies to the "success" of the evenhandedness. There are other successes. This film features wonderfully intimate interviews with some leaders and experts that actually, given all the material we've seen about this already, feel fresh. Footage showing Jibril Rajoub, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Yossi Klein Halevi, Dore Gold and Dennis Ross sometimes say things you might not expect from them. And settler women and appealing university students all bring deliciously diverse, if sometimes maddening, opinions to light. It is these contributions that probably have led Dr. Bernard Lewis to call the film "a remarkable achievement" and Prof. Akbar Ahmed of American University "a powerful, must-see film." Certainly some of the film's biggest sins, given its length, are those of omission, trying to pack far too much complicated and contested history into too short a time. But that's to be expected. Another problem lies in its stylistic aesthetic. From the opening rock-and-roll music montage of violence and painful images, one gets the sense that this is not a scholarly inquiry. At the Jerusalem premiere there was a great deal of sighing, muttering, leg shifting and gesticulating from all persuasions. Indeed, the majority of viewers in this and neighboring countries will probably be incensed by this film and find it quite hard to watch at times. The question remains whether if by angering people from both sides, the film has actually succeeded. Naturally, it would be preferable if the film could make both sides happy. But that will probably not be possible until the two sides of the conflict make each other happy.