The Dinner (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 5; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1–5): 4

Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’

Luke 12:1-3

After their toasts, the 4 parents will get down to the grim business that has brought them together. (c) The Orchard

The titular dinner is at a palatial restaurant so fancy that the waiter treats the courses as if each were a work of art. As four assistants parade up to the table and lay a dish before the four patrons, he describes it as if he were a docent, naming the ingredients and their provenance. Clearly, this is a culinary haven for the rich and powerful. However, throughout the film (the divisions of which are named after each course, from aperitif to digestif) none of the four members of the party are able to enjoy the meal. They have gathered to discuss far weightier matters than food.

Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney are meeting with his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a U.S. congressman who is in the midst run for governor. His 2nd wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) is the fourth member of the party. Paul, a misanthropic former history teacher is there under duress because, as will see in flashbacks, he grown up always in the shadow of his high-achieving brother, but the reason for their meeting is too serious for him to stay away.

Their two teenaged sons are in trouble, deep, very deep trouble. The two boys had been out drinking at a party with friends and had come upon a homeless woman wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in an ATM booth. Irritated, the teenagers had ordered her out, but she had refused to move, whereupon one of the boys had lighted a match and set her afire. The kids actually laugh as she burns up, regarding their deed as a prank. One of them had made a video and posted it on the internet. Now the fully sober sons are looking to their parents to get them out of their scrape.

Paul and Claire want to cover up their son’s crime, whereas Stan, surprisingly, talks about holding a press conference at which he announces his withdrawal from the campaign and then standing by their sons as they face justice. Katelyn, who realizes full well she has served as a trophy wife, castigates Stan, reminding him how she had taken over the raising of his son and being the dutiful politician’s wife for years. Paul and Claire are equally as vociferous in condemning any admission of guilt on behalf of their children.

The battle of words rages back and forth over the different courses, as well as in different rooms of the old mansion housing the restaurant. The class prejudice of Stan’s three opponents are revealed in their arguments about sacrificing the future of their sons for the sake of a homeless woman who should not have been in the ATM shelter. We witness the enormous capacity we have of self-deception and the old argument of a good end justifies. At this table we can see Cain justifying his murder of Able; of King David covering up his murder of Urriah; or to jump ahead in history, of President Nixon covering up the Watergate burglary. Will Stan be able to stand up against the onslaught of the three, or will he become like the Roman politician Pilate and cave in to pressure of others?

The film also can be seen as an interesting study of Paul’s character, one shaped by his boyhood in which he always played second fiddle to his brother and regards the world with deep cynicism—indeed as a student of history, he sees the Battle of Gettysburg as a metaphor of the world. A flashback to the brother’s touring the Gettysburg National Military Park, consisting of a montage of shots of the pair and numerous statues (some faces of the combatants in close-up), monuments and graves, is a powerful sequence.

You might have to search for this film on the internet because it played for just a week or two in a Cincinnati art theater before closing. This despite the excellent and well-known cast–Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, and an excellent supporting cast. The characters become such toxic examples of what once were called the 1% that this film fare might be indigestible for those who prefer a happy hour film, but nonetheless leaves us with plenty to chew on long after the dishes are cleared away and the screen fades to black.

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.

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Wonder Woman (2017)

Rated. Running time: 2 hours 21 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalm 82:3-4

Diana’s bullet-repelling gauntlets enable her even to attack the German machine gun nests that have stopped the Allied troops so often.                    (c) Warner Brothers

Although I am not a keen fan of the superhero genre, I do welcome this new addition because it provides our daughters with a worthy role model, even though the film still embraces power and violence.

The film opens with a present-day prologue in which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman) is at her office in the Louvre when a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to her. Opening it, she stares at a picture taken a hundred years ago. It shows Wonder Woman, sword in hand, standing during four armed men, a Turk, a handsome young man, a hatted Native American, and a kilt-clad Scotsman. In the background are buildings of a French village and a large WW 1 tank. It will be a while before we learn the men’s identities as the faithful and courageous companions of Wonder Woman.

The old photograph takes the viewers back in time to Diana’s youth on the island of Themyscira, shrouded by mist and some type of field shielding it from the scrutiny of the outside world. Here lives the race of Amazons, presided over by Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and the regent’s sister, Antiope (Robin Wright). The latter is trainer whom little Diana longs to join, but she is held back by her mother. The girl persists through the years, Hippolyta eventually giving in because her sister tells her they must be ready when and if they have to face outside forces threatening the peace of their island. She tells Antiope to press her harder than she has anyone else, which she does. Diana proves to be the best of the warriors, eventually able to stand up to the onslaughts of her mentor during their arduous training sessions.

The outside world does impinge on the Amazons when a WW 2 fighter plane crashes into the sea, and Diana swims out to rescue the unconscious pilot. Soon a boat load of armed Germans land on the beach. The ensuing battle is a fierce one. As skilled as they are with their bows and arrows and acrobatic flights, many of the Amazons are nonetheless cut down by the German guns, including Antiope. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), recovering from his near-drowning, also fights along with the Amazons, and after the Germans are killed, explains that a World War is raging in the outside world. In Europe the Allies and Germans are about to sign an armistice, but there is a German general and a scientist who have developed a super weapon, a deadly gas, that they plan to release on the front lines. Millions of soldiers on both sides would be killed, but the plotters do not care if it would prevent the signing of the armistice so that they can continue the war, one which they could win with the new weapon.

Diana, of course, agrees to go into the world with Steve to use her skills and power for the triumph of right. Like young Arthur of the old legend, she goes to the shrine and extracts the marvelous sword awaiting her use and picks up the shield that will protect her body and a glowing lasso that forces anyone wrapped in it to tell the truth. She also possesses a pair of gauntlets with which she can deflect bullets. There follows lots of action-packed sequences in which our favorite Amazon lives up to the expectations of her deceased mentor and Queen Mother, her highly honed skills aided by her shield, lasso and bullet-repelling gauntlets. (Though her charge of the German trenches, during which she deflects what must have been thousands of bullets from the machine guns pointed at her from all along the line, is a bit beyond believable, but hey, this is basically an animated comic book.)

The script, mainly by Allan Heinberg, includes many humorous sequences, such as the one in the boat in which Diana and Steve set sail from. (And note that a woman, Patty Jenkins s the director!) The two exchange information about each other and are uncomfortable concerning sleeping arrangements. Steve asks, “Have you never met a man before? What about your father?” “I have no father. I was brought to life by Zeus.” Well that’s neat. Reaching London, Steve introduces his companion to Etta, who tells Diana, “I’m Steve Trevor’s secretary.” Diana asks, “What is a secretary?” and Etta replies, “I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do.” Diana comments, “Where we come from, that’s called slavery.” And Etta replies, “I like her!” (Actress Lucy Davis is a real scene stealer—let’s hope she signs on to the inevitable sequels!)

All the cast members are excellent, with Gal Gadot proving a worthy successor to the beloved Lynda Carter, star of the TV series in the 70s. Chris Pine makes us care for Diana’s companion and love-interest, so that when he sets out on his courageous mission to save the lives of others, we are truly moved by the result—especially because he has left Diana his watch, saying to her, “I wish we had more time together. I love you.”

My main criticism is that the script follows the Allied propaganda practice of WW 1 by depicting all of the German characters as brutish thugs willing to destroy villages and their civilians for their own ends, but then, this is a comic book adaptation, a genre known for painting its villains in the darkest of colors. The General is especially a cardboard character, but his cohort, the scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a bit more complex, she with her destroyed face partially covered by a mask. I would have liked to have learned a bit more of her past and motivations.

If the scripts of the sequels are as good as this one, we will be in for a real treat as we again watch a woman take the lead in saving the world. And who, despite her physical powers, has her heart in the right place when she says, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP. Please help keep this site going by purchasing an issue of the journal or subscribing to it.

 

3 Generations (2015)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 3.5

A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:4

He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Ray/Raymona, Maggie & Dolly are talking with a doctor about Ray’s desire for a sex change treatment program. (c) The Weinstein Co.

Thanks to this film, I’ve just expanded my list of “Susan Sarandon’s Mother Movies” again*—though as you might guess by the title, she’s also a grandmother. (Where have the years gone since 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil?). It too is enjoyable, though because the script is somewhat superficial, will probably not be one listed in a summation of her remarkable career. Her Dolly is a supporting character. The film’s original title was better attuned to its plot: About Ray, the 3rd generation member, daughter Ramona (Elle Fanning) who wants to enter a sex-change program.

Now calling herself Ray, she is eager to begin the series of injections before he/she enters a new high school so that he can begin as a boy and not be stigmatized by having to explain the process for making the change. However, because she/he is a teenager, the 2nd Generation character, Maggie (Naomi Watts) her mother, must give her consent.

Both mother and grandmother are confused by Ramona and express mixed feelings. Dolly herself bucked the system, coming out years ago to declare that she is a lesbian. Ever since she has been in a long-time relationship with Frances (Linda Emond). Single mother Maggie and Ray have lived in the 1st Generation’s large apartment for a long time. Dolly blurts out, “Why can’t she just be a lesbian?” Maggie’s response is simple, showing that she has accepted her birth-daughter’s decision, “She likes women.”

When Maggie at last feels she can sign the legal document she discovers that the signature of Ray’s father Craig (Tate Donavon) is also needed. Her trip to the suburbs to find him leads to the discovery that he has remarried and that he is not eager at all in signing. This of course leads to Ray, and then Dolly and Maggie, traveling to his home—and also a revelation concerning Maggie that is not at all to her credit.

Directed by Gaby Dellal, with Nikole Beckwith as her co-scriptwriter, the film is more amusing than enlightening about transgender people. I do not recall the term “transgender” ever being spoken by any of the characters! Ray travels about the city on his skateboard and is sometimes seen with other teenagers. I recall no hint of his being despised or bullied by “straight” peers, as one might presume. We might also have expected to have sought out the company of other kids regarded as “deviants,” but not so.

The so-so script is well offset by the excellent performances of Elle Fanning, as well as Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon. Also, the film is another good reminder of how diverse a form the family can take on today. (Unless we think about it, many of us of the older generations are still bound to the image of the ideal family as being male and female parents with a son and a daughter.) We have come a long way from the nuclear two-parent family of Father Knows Best. Back in the 50s gays were subject in the media to derisive humor and stereotyping. Now it is a lesbian that is depicted as expressing her confusion and frustration over a transgender granddaughter. We are in an age when the old Bible-based guidelines for gender roles are obsolete (and even possibly destructive), too culture-relevant to be of help—although, on the other hand, its two basic commandments are even more relevant than ever.

*See the article “Mothers—As Played by Susan Sarandon in the June 2016 VP.

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.

God Knows Where I Am (2016)

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.

Psalm 77:1-2

The irony of Linda Bishop’s starving to death in this old farmhouse is that her sister passed by it over 50 times during that winter.        (c) Bond 360

Jedd and Todd Wider’s stark documentary was made possible because its deceased subject, Linda Bishop, left behind a notebook in which she wrote daily her thoughts as she slowly died of starvation—and this was in a farmhouse in New Hampshire by a busy highway. Her schizophrenia had alienated her from her daughter, sister, and friends.  From her window, she could see across the road the house of a neighbor whose large-screen TV glowed each night. She died during the winter of 2007/8, but her body was not found until a prospective buyer came to look at the farm in May. How could this happen in America, the land of abundance and neighborly concern? That is what the filmmakers set out to explore in their film, one that will leave you pondering about—well, a lot of things.

Through interviews with her loved ones and old family photos and home movies, we learn of Linda’s painful journey from her happy youth and later motherhood to psychological breakdown when she thought the Chinese Mafia were trailing her. Estranged from her family and made homeless, she wanders around, eventually being sent by a judge to a psychiatric facility. Given a safe home and regular food, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. Unfortunately, she refused to take her medication, and state law allowed her to do so, even though this amounted to suicide. After weeks of non-cooperation from her, the hospital staff dismisses her –in the cold of winter! Trudging along a highway she comes upon the abandoned farmhouse where an old apple orchard provides her with food, and the snow her drinking water.

From her journal we see she is a deeply religious person, quoting Scripture after Scripture. The title comes from her. As she eats the last of the apples and grows weaker and weaker after Christmas, she observes that God knows where she is, even if no one else does. Even though she sees the neighbor’s house and the many cars and trucks passing by, she is so out of touch with reality that she does not just get up and walk out to ask for help.

One of the interviewees that we see many times is her sister Joan who lived fairly near the farmhouse. What a heart-wrenching scene when she remarks that she knows of the house where her sister died. She observes that she must have passed it 50 times or more during her travels up and down that highway.

Although one might speculate why the God who knows where Linda Bishop is did not intervene to save her, the filmmakers’ intention is clearly to get us to discuss and act upon the woeful laws that allow such an obviously a mentally ill person to continually turn down medical help. Surely a legal guardian, such as the sister or the judge who admitted her to the hospital, should be able to over-ride such a decision. Mention is made in the film that there are two and a half million people in the nation suffering from schizophrenia, and that half of them, like Linda, deny that they are ill. The film also raises questions about the humanity of the staff at the hospital. Granted, she was troublesomely uncooperative, but how could human being send this delusional person out into the cold winter knowing that she had no support system?

Linda’s opening words in the movie sound like that of one of the Psalms, “Dear God, please save me,” she wrote in her journal. There are dozens of such Psalms, and for them, there was a rescue. Not so for Linda Bishop. This film is a fine tribute to her, and if it prods us to change obsolete laws, it is a fitting tribute to her memory. (I write and post this on Memorial Day, 2017)

This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.

 

Going in Style (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour  min.

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity  3.

Our star rating (1-5): 3 1/2

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.

Ecclesiastes 4:1

The 3 buddies & workmates are informed that their steel company has revoked their pensions. (c) Warner Brothers

 

Like the 1979 comedy starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, this remake is based on the incongruity of the age of its protagonists and the daring deed that they pull off. And we are again led by somewhat dubious moral reasoning into going along with their justification of their deed.

Director Zach Braff directs Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three retired steel plant employees dependent upon their pensions. Joe Caine) lives in Brooklyn with his daughter and granddaughter, and Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) share the house across the street. They hang out together almost every day, often eating at a café that serves bad coffee but good pie, served by a waitress who easily hold her own against their banter.

The film begins with Joe is disputing with his banker because of the recently tripled mortgage payment that he cannot afford. The banker unsympathetically points out to the fine print which states that his original payments were initial payments that would go up in several months. No, there is nothing he can do to help Joe. This guy would make a good partner for old Potter in that movie you watch most Christmases.

The three buddies attend a meeting called by their former employer to inform them that their pensions are ending. The company is closing the plant and moving out of the country. The pension fund will finance the closing and the move. To make matters worse for Joe, it is his bank that is handling the finances of the company.

Little wonder that Joe wants to strike back at the financial predators who have stiffed him and his two friends. How they do so is great fun, with even a bit of romance thrown into the crime intrigue by Ann Margaret who plays a supermarket clerk who goes after Arkin’s Albert. After the hilarious hold-up and getaway, Matt Dillon also shows up as an FBI agent deeply suspicious of the boys. And Siobhan Fallon Hogan is a hoot as the sassy waitress Mitzi whose kindness beneath her gruff exterior is rewarded with a tip big enough to buy the restaurant.

We laugh at the crazy antics, and yet if you stop to think about Joe’s speech below, you realize that the context of his words is sobering, even grim:

Joe: “These banks practically destroyed this country. They crushed a lot of people’s dreams, and nothing ever happened to them. We three old guys, we hit a bank. We get away with it, we retire in dignity. Worst comes to the worst, we get caught, we get a bed, three meals a day, and better health care than we got now.”

The officials of “these banks” and the Wall Street con men “crushed a lot of people’s dreams, and nothing ever happened to them.” (Well, maybe a few were prosecuted) As a group they stole far more money than bank robbers, but does this justify our three buddies’ act? Lots of people probably would say “Yes,” as can be seen by the success of Hell or High Water, a serious film in which bank robbers are hurting a lot more than Joe, Willie, and Albert.

This review with a set of questions will be in the 2017 issue of VP.

Disturbing the Peace (2016)

This is the companion film to Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine, both films contributing greatly to a possible dialogue about the dire situation in the Middle East.

Unrated. Running time: 1 hour 27 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Luke 19:41

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

 

The Palestinian members of Combatants for Peace demonstrate at the wall. (c) Abramorama

Directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young’s film is truly a movie that matters. I wish every citizen of the U.S., Israel, and Palestine could see and discuss this film, and perhaps even more, our leaders. It is about two once antagonistic groups, one of Israeli soldiers and the other of Palestinian fighters, who have recognized the folly of a bloody conflict that has extended for almost 70 years. They have renounced hatred and violence and in 2005 formed Combatants for Peace through which they hope to change the attitude of their people and their governments so they can arrive at a peaceful coexistence. The film tells the story of eight members of the organization, of how they changed their hearts and minds regarding their enemies. Their stories, which are re-enacted as they speak, are truly remarkable. Interspersed throughout are vintage newsreels, home movies, and photos, giving the context of the individual stories. The film concludes with a video report of a peaceful demonstration at a wall between Israel and the occupied land.

The film begins in 2005 with four Israelis traveling by car to meet some Palestinians in the West Bank town of Beit Jala. One of them voices his fear concerning dangers that might lie ahead. They have not met the Palestinians: are they being set up to be kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and held for ransom, as other Israelis have been? There follows the front titles and credits, and then a brief historical summary that includes visuals from the Holocaust; the Zionist emigration to Palestine; the creation of Israel and the Arab attacks; and subsequent events up to the early 21st century.

After the history reminder, the film goes back and forth between that meeting and events throughout the next nine years. Apparently, the Palestinians had learned of the refusal of the soldiers, fed up with the inhumanity they had become emmeshed in as members of the force occupying the West Bank, to answer any future calls to serve in the occupying Army, except for purely defensive action within Israel’s 1967 borders. When the soldiers went public, a few people supported them, but most reacted angrily, branding them as traitors. The Palestinians too had become fed up with the hatred and violence on their side, and so the two groups were meeting to see if they could work together to change the poisonous situation, thus giving birth to Combatants for Peace.

The filmmakers reveal that the name of their film came from the incident in which the group was demonstrating and a couple of the leaders were arrested by Israeli soldiers and charged with “Disturbing the Peace.” Quite a throwback to the Civil Rights days of Montgomery and Birmingham! The members accept the appellation, declaring that the status quo is not really peace, given all the violence committed by militants on both sides.

Chosen to represent both sides of the conflict are eight individuals, four Israelis and four Palestinians, with one of each group being a woman. Their initial meetings were like those sponsored by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee in that each confessed to his or her former hatred of the other and were involved in acts hurtful to the other side. They conclude their stories by telling how they were led to opt out of the cycle of hatred and violence.

Shifa al-Qudsi​ had been a beauty technician when she was volunteered to be a suicide bomber. Two of her cousins and one of her in-laws had been killed by Israeli soldiers. She believes her people are oppressed so much that she justifies her plan by saying that the Israelis “didn’t leave us a chance… our world was a cemetery of the living.” Her telling her six-year-old daughter that she would be going away the next day and not returning is a moving moment, especially when the girl pleads for her not to leave her alone. However, the Israelis, tipped off, broke into her home and arrested her that night. During her six-year prison stint she engaged her female guard in a conversation when she learned that the woman’s brother was killed in a bomb attack. Though sorrowful, the guard declared, “I am against any kind of violence.” Shifa was so moved to discover that there were Israelis who hated the violence and wanted peace that she began to reexamine her own views. This included reading the writings of Gandhi and Mandela.

Assaf Yacobovitz ​was an officer in the Israeli Air Force directing an aerial strike on a targeted house in Gaza. It is one thing to sit in front of a radar screen and order the destruction of an enemy target, but then he got up and saw on a television screen the news report of the result of what he had ordered. The line of mangled and burnt bodies, mostly civilian, so sickened him that his conscience drove him to give up his military work.

For me one of the most interesting of the conversion stories is that of Palestinian fighter Sulaiman Khatib, who at the age of 14 was throwing rocks at soldiers and preparing Molotov cocktails. He and a friend tried to obtain guns by stabbing two Israelis soldiers: fortunately, they did not kill their enemies, but they were arrested and sent to prison where they were often abused and sometimes tortured. Khatib read a lot in the library and one day watched Schindler’s List, which triggered within himself deep emotions. Those being murdered onscreen were the ancestors of the people he had hated and tried to kill. He thereupon learned Hebrew and English and studied Jewish history, as well as that of nonviolent resistance. Released from prison after ten years, he joined with others advocating friendship and peace between the warring peoples.  (I have a workshop called “The Power of Story” centering on such films as Amistad; Avalon; Fried Green Tomatoes; The Big Fish; Final Solution; and others. In all of these films stories transform the listener. You can bet that this one will be incorporated in any future presentation.)

The other five conversion stories are also uplifting, but I will leave it to you to discover them. I do want to mention one story in which Jamil Qassas and his wife Fatima argue about taking their two young daughters to a Combatants’ demonstration. She is against it, claiming that she does not want to impose their values on them, but to learn to choose for themselves. However, he points out, that she does take them to the demonstrations where violence is espoused. She responds with the charge that her husband is betraying their family by fraternizing with Israelis, though she has not met them. Thus, we see that families, as well as peoples, are split over how the enemy should be resisted.

The last part of the film shows a 2015 Tel Aviv memorial service in which those who have died on both sides are honored, and then the preparations for a large demonstration at the West Bank wall separating Jews from Palestinians. Actually, I should say a fence and a wall, the wall being on the Palestinian side of the narrow lane that separates the territories and a steel fence on the Israeli’s. A large Bread and Puppet-like face is created of papier-mâché to which are attached extremely long arms and hands. On the day of the march the Jewish members of Combatants for Peace march on their side of the fence, and the Palestinians on theirs up to the point where the wall gives way also to a fence where the two groups can see each other.

Chanting “Two states for two peoples!” members hold aloft posters, and a long line of Palestinians carry large panels painted on one side the drab gray color of the wall, and on the other colorful pastoral scenes. When they lay aside their wall panels, the huge face is revealed to the Jews. The marchers who are carrying its arms and hands move toward the fence so that it looks as if the friendly giant is reaching out in a welcoming embrace of those on the other side. I was moved to think of some of the depictions of Christ reaching out in a welcoming, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…” However, soon a contingent of Israeli soldiers hasten down the inner corridor, and the first thing they do is, without a warning, throw over the Palestinian side a tear gas canister. Israeli theater director Chen Alon glances at the soldiers between the wall and fence and remarks on the irony of the situation: it is his former Army comrades who appear to be the prisoners, not his Palestinians friends. The soldiers are forced by their leaders to perpetuate the cycle of hatred and violence that seems to have no end in view.

The eight men and women in the film have the courage and the imagination to give up the narrative they were taught from birth about themselves and their enemies. One of them says that at the beginning they all shared “a willingness to kill people we don’t know.” This reminded me of Gandhi-follower Richard Gregg’s argument in his classic book The Power of Nonviolence that two people engaged in a fight are basically in agreement, no matter what they are fighting about, namely that violence is the best or only way of dealing with their differences. He calls nonviolence “Moral Jiu-Jitsu” because when persons respond to an aggressive act in a nonviolent way, they throw their attacker off balance because the attacker was expecting a violent response. It is apparent from the abuse heaped on them by hostile people–“traitors” and “whores”—that Combatants for Peace members have a long way to go to convince the public on both sides of the wall that they are right, that the only path to peace is for both sides to renounce violence. However, they are reaching people around the world, such as two Irishmen, Alistair Little and Jerry Foster, a Catholic and a Protestant who fought in Northern Ireland on opposing sides, sent a message to the Combatants for Peace Facebook page, “You are not alone in your struggle. Our journey is to humanize each other and understand each other. You are an inspiration to the international community.” (This is not in the film but in a report about Combatants for Peace in Al Monitor, July 18, 2016)

Someone (usually attributed to Einstein) has written, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is obvious that the eight people in this film, as opposed to their millions of fellow citizens imprisoned by their narratives of hatred and vengeance, are the sane ones in a world gone mad. The film played for just a week in Cincinnati, so if it shows up in your area, see it right away. It is available at the film’s website on DVD ($19.99 + sh) or for rent on streaming video ($4.99)—worth every penny!.

Note: Another good film besides this one and Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine is Martin Doblmeir’s wonderful  The Power of Forgiveness. These three films would make a great three-part series on peacemaking in our world. Wow, just now while searching IMDB, I came across another documentary entitled The Combatants for Peace and the Billboard From Bethlehem about the American owner of a billboard company engaging both sides in conversation. I hope to report more on this later, but click on the title, and you can see the intriguing trailer.

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.