Recently, Amos Gitai visited Alliance Française in Delhi to attend a screening of Disengagement (2007). Post-film, scholar and editor of Being and Becoming: Cinemas of Asia, Prof. Rashmi Doraiswamy sat with him to discuss, in specific, his much acclaimed Border Trilogy. Gitai also used the occasion to hold forth on cinema, form and politics. He was also accompanied to the screening by frequent collaborator, Marie-Jose Sanselme, who wrote all three films of the Border Trilogy.
Diséngagement (2007) is part of the trilogy of Free Zone (2005) and Promised Land (2004). It seems like another one of your trilogies, does this stem from some fascination with the three or a theme that you like to develop, on political issues, economic issues and spaces?
GITAI: In the Middle East, we are very used to binary perceptions of the conflict. I was an architect by training before I became a film-maker. To make a table, you need to build at least three legs. I think you need a multi-spectrum perspective to understand a conflict as intricate as this, you must avoid simplifications. I think most people for various reasons have a very simplistic vision and the warring factions view this as a conflict between very angelic people versus very devilish people. I think it’s not a pure conflict each side has elements of both. I think we will only ever reach peace when we realize it will not be perfect it will be a recognition of differences. That each of us is different, each of us has different ideas, different beliefs, and different religions and if we accept that, then maybe we can have peace. We don’t have to end every dispute by killing.
What was very interesting is how you change the form all through your film. The military is doing its military training, conducting their evacuation. The Rabbi are doing their protest. And then the ending, all three, divided by the fence, all meet and join together.
GITAI: I am a collector of contradictions, and the movie shows what happens between the settlers, the army and the police. Yusuf Abu-Warda reads a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. So we have this dialogue that takes place, which I find interest. The Europeans always look at us as if we are this savage Middle-East people but I don’t think they are very well placed to tell us this, because they spent the last century massacring tens of millions of people. Recently, we had the anniversary of 100 years of the First World War, when Europeans killed millions of people and burned the whole continent just to arrive at the very simple conclusion that every dispute between, say, Germany and France will not lead to a war. Compared to that, we are still relatively modest, and I hope we stay modest.
I love the scene where Barbara Hendricks sings this aria.
MARIE-JOSE SANSELME: That was not in the script.
There is a great deal of tension in the film. The daughter (Juliette Binoche) doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew goes back to Israel and connects with her own daughter. The son (Liron Levo), who is wonderfully played, has this double self: in France, he’s very debonair and casual but in Israel, he’s more vulnerable and aggressive. How did you create this tension, this sense of a deeper texture with such a small cast?
SANSELME: It’s a process that takes time. It doesn’t finish with the script. The project was evolving. There was work with the actors, the use of the locations, this shapes the people. Like in this project, Juliette Binoche accompanied Amos to a certain location, a hôtel particulier, almost completely destroyed and it made him a bit neurotic. Binoche who accompanied him got that tension and understood what the film needed. Most of the time, while shooting, everyone’s dead tired. Amos Gitai said yesterday that his cinema was about healing. That’s the inner logic of his films.
So Mr. Gitai, do you see yourself as similar to the character you play in the film. You play this driver, who facilitates passages, who takes Juliette to places she can’t get to easily. Is this a metaphor for how we can move between different cultures?
I consider myself a part of a group of film-makers who are inspired by the place I am born, by my regional culture. But I am also someone who exists thanks to France, which facilitates my films to be screened at the French cultural centre, who shows a film in Hebrew with a bit of Arabic, French and English. It’s driven by a vision of a culture. This is different from Hollywood where you are supposed to convert to their style. This is more multi-cultural. My parents are immigrants. My father was a Bauhaus architect, he studied under Wassily Kandinsky, and my mother was born in the Holy Land. For my mother, the center was Israel but my father he was pushed out by historical circumstances.
The opening has the two characters interacting. They are Palestinian and Israeli but not only Palestinian and Israeli, they have many aspects to their identities.How do you deal with that, characters that are comprised of multiple territories but at the same time being so tied to land?
This is what I said when I say I love contradictions. Jews have been moving over the surface of the planet for a very long time. Their only sense of identity was a place that they had been removed from. In the last hundred years this is reversed and this has given them a lop-sided perspective, a sense of a schism.
I have found connections between your films and that of Fatih Akin.
I like Fatih Akin. I think it’s a great irony that the only great movies that Germany produces these days are Turkish.
I wanted to ask you about the use of the long shot. We have seen it used for temporality, for saturation of time. In this film the long shot is spatial, it’s not about temporality, and it’s about space. It’s about people coming in and moving out of spaces.
You see them walking along the fence, then the camera shows the Palestinians, and then the camera follows her as she goes into the old house. You are trying to inform the viewer of the geography, and the proximity of this conflict. You don’t do this by creating a montage, by isolating the elements. My new film, that is playing now at Venice, Ana Arabia (2013), is done entirely in one take. I like to juxtapose the elements in a single take. The choreography is very complicated; you need to organize the actors, the camera, and the elements. There is not a lot of room for improvisation but at the same it is not so rigid.
If there is a film I like, I like to recompose it as a spectator. There are some films you swallow your hamburgers and you forget them. The experience of the films you like is different. Those movies strike you and you try to think and work through it. In this, I am the same as anyone, I have no higher ground. Every spectator sees the film and reacts differently and I like to leave it to the audience to figure out.