VIVIENNE PORZSOLT previews some of the features of the Festival of Jewish Film. The festival runs in Melbourne from November 10 to 27 at the Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick. In Perth it is at Cinema Paradiso, 164 James St, Northbridge, November 12-20. In Sydney, it's at the Academy Twin Cinema, 3a Oxford St, Paddington, November 17-27.
Claude Lanzmann's Tsahal is very disappointing. From the progressive Lanzmann, I would have expected a powerful critique of the ideology of self-righteous might surrounding the Israeli Defence Force. Instead, this five-hour movie articulates and promotes that ideology.
Interviewing officers almost exclusively, and consequently no women, Lanzmann portrays the Israeli combatants as simply human beings, suffering fear and a natural desire to defend their homeland.
Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla, is presented as a bucolic farmer, tending his flocks. Not a word about the massacres.
Chief of Israeli defence Ehud Barak describes his participation, disguised as a woman, in a raid in Beirut to assassinate members of the PLO. None of the contradictions are exposed which derive from the fact that a homeland for Jews was bought at the price of Palestinians being deprived of theirs.
The final third of the film does deal with the occupied territories and the question of torture — but oh, so gently.
The vigorous debate with which Lanzmann challenges a settler in the final section of the film focuses on the rhetoric and irrationality of the settler, not on the policies of successive Likud and Labour governments which placed him there.
Disappointing as Tsahal is from a political point of view, it is worth seeing for the close look it does take at the IDF. Lanzmann has enabled his subjects to open up and reveal themselves in a remarkable way. Just take your own political analysis with you when you go.
Other films in the festival which should be worth seeing include the restored Yiddish classic, The Light Ahead. The Yiddish films are usually rewarding, since they are generally progressive, reflecting a period in world Jewish culture before it was dominated by Zionism and its attendant isolationist paranoia.
Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising According to Marek Edelman looks good. Edelman, a leader of the Jewish underground, narrates the film, using footage taken by Nazi cameramen to portray the experience of the ghetto. The film was judged Best Historical Documentary at the 1994 San Francisco International Film Festival.
Escape to the Rising Sun is a documentary about the 20,000 Jews who escaped the Nazis by taking refuge in Shanghai. Fifteen of these Shanghai veterans are interviewed, and the film includes some never before seen archival footage.