Zero Motivation: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bridging the cultural divide with comedy.

Tomorrow I head to Opera Plaza Cinema to catch sight of a new black comedy from Israel titled Zero Motivation.

Cited as a militaristic Office Space, Zero Motivation centers it’s story on young women serving their two-year compulsory military service in a bureaucratic office within the Israeli army. Described as dry, offbeat, and sad, the film follows these women as they’re thrust into the military complex but removed from the direct implications of it’s cause.

Lead actress Nelly Tagar will appear in person on Saturday, December 13 for a Q&A after the 7:00pm show and to introduce the 9:45pm show.

I’m looking forward to seeing this film as I’m a nerd for conflict cinema and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been ripe with cinematic gems for the past few years. Whether or not this film breaks a mold or moves me to laugh-induced tears, it is part of a conversation I geek out to.

Join me tomorrow and buy tickets HERE!

But you know, this brings me back to, without really reminding me of, one of my favorite films from the past decade:

Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains: A Chronicle of a Present Absentee.

No film, in my opinion, serves as a greater comment on the Palestinian experience through the 40’s to the present as does this film. With its stylistic weirdness and the distance of history, Suleiman’s semi-autobiographical film is a comic reflection that slyly brings the audience in to a conflict at its most human level.

Focused on the experiences of one family, The Time That Remains tells the story of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the surrender of Nazareth in the 40’s until the semi-present (as the film was completed in 2009). Through the eyes of Fouad, and later his son Elia, we are introduced to the absurdities and contradictions of Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Balancing the absurdities Suleiman produces scenes of immense sadness, such as the symbolic deaths of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Elia’s mother, with ludicrous sketches of a tank following a man taking out the trash or hospital staff fighting with soldiers over a dying suspect. I’ve seen this film so many times but it never ceases to amaze. As opposed to looking at the oppressive structure directly, Suleiman focuses on the human experiences of the individuals living within it’s confines. It’s a sly coming of age story with politics pushing the story of Elia’s family along.

Up until recently you couldn’t find a copy of this film on dvd outside of France but thanks to technology catching up, you can now stream via Netflix or Amazon!

Instead of making a dramatised account full of grief and anger Suleiman does the unthinkable with his devastating experience: laughs it all out.

As the inimitable Erma Bombeck once said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” Director Elia Suleiman is a master of playing with this line as he presents largely comedic scenarios, bringing the audience into an important world affair through a humanist lens. The film lacks a degree of immediacy but this is not a documentary or a harrowing drama such as Omar, Dancing Arabs, or The Attack. This is an introduction to a complex conflict. Like a stand up comedian using humor to expose prejudice whilst on stage, Elia Suleiman uses his medium to inspire reflection. Suleiman’s polemics relate a human drama, political by nature but not a call-to-arms.

Comedies are, among other things, manifestos in microcosm, ways of seeing the world that depend for their success on wooing and securing like-mindedness in large numbers of people. Laughing together is a surefire short-cut to a feeling of belonging together, and since belonging is an inevitably political concept saturated with deeply ideological questions (belonging where? to what? for what reasons? with whom? against whom? who decides?), comedy is never innocent of politics.– Sight and Sound, 2012

The Time That Remains is humanist cinema at its finest and the absence of sentimentality, the gentleness of the cynicism and the curbing of rancour are remarkable. I suggest this film often and to anyone, regardless of their politics or cinematic tastes.

Tabitha Jackson of the Sundance Institute recently called upon documentary filmmakers to change their mentalities towards filmmaking in tune to the language of cinema instead of finance. She stated that, “the facts and events will become old — they become history — but the feelings we felt regarding those events stay with us. Therefore, art is the only living bridge between people of various generations and time periods.” I feel this pertains to fiction filmmaking as fewer and fewer new releases reflect the language of cinema in favor of lazy production for maximum profit. The Time That Remains is a prime ode to this calling. It is forever in tune to the lingua franca of cinema and I know it will find it’s place in the history books, or the Criterion Collection, someday!

If the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (or political conflict in general) is your cinematic “bag”, here’s a list of a few great films and where to find them!

5 Broken Cameras – Netflix Instant

The Attack - Netflix Instant

Bethlehem - Netflix Instant

Death in GazaHBO

The Gatekeepers – Netflix DVD only

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains – Amazon Instant or DVD purchase

Omar – Netflix Instant

Palestine is Still the IssueFandor