By Nicolás Carrasco
A quick Internet search informs me that the West Bank has not yet been formally annexed by Israel and as such, under international law it has not belonged to any state since Jordan relinquished its sovereignty after its illegal annexation in 1948. Therefore, the final status of the entire area, along with the Gaza Strip, is yet to be determined in further negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In the absence of prior sovereignty, Israel considers it a “disputed territory” and not an “occupation regime”. The West Bank is, therefore, like a prison.
Within this context, in 2011, theater director Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, in front of his young daughter and her nanny. Julian was the entrepreneur behind the Freedom Theater, which was an association that taught theater to Palestinian kids and teenagers.
Mixing different times and textures of images, the film intersects conversations with people who were close to Juliano with footage from an unfinished documentary shot by Juliano himself on the Palestinian brigades. Although the filmmakers ask their interviewees about who killed Juliano and why, it seems that their search is also motivated by knowing who Juliano was and the work he dedicated his life to. In the course of the interviews, we learn how the Freedom Theater threatened both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments. “Through the Freedom Theater the people can understand about Palestine,” one of the interviewees tells us.
In the course of the interviews we also learn the story of Juliano’s mother, who also taught theater workshops for Palestinian children, some of whom then rose to arms as adults. That way we learn about their relationship with Zacharias, who was one of these children and who as an adult was a leader of the Palestinian brigades. The interview with Zacharias contrasts violent resistance (represented by him) with artistic activism (represented by Juliano). In this way, a symmetry emerges between the detainee, who had previously provided the building that would eventually house the Freedom Theater, and his murdered friend, one in prison, the other killed.
“Denmark is a prison,” Hamlet tells us. The fate of our two protagonists on this documentary reinforces the parallels between Shakespeare’s work and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “If you cannot trust anyone, you cannot trust your friends, you cannot even trust your own mother, you go crazy”, says one of the interviewees. Just as in the play Hamlet uses theater to provoke his uncle Claudius to reveal himself as the murderer of his father, the Freedom Theater sought to do the same with the Israeli and the Palestinian governments. Klotz and Ostermeier use cinema for the same purposes. They are saying to us: “Stand, and unfold yourself”.
CINÉMA DU RÉEL: FRENCH COMPETITION
Directors: Nicolas Klotz, Thomas Ostermeier