Chabrol has always enjoyed puncturing the balloon of bourgeois complacency, and as his creatures jump to ever quicker conclusions, the movie's edge of campy self-reflection grows increasingly pronounced. The more one suspects, the funnier Merci becomes. Mika brings her injured stepson a pair of videosFritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door and Jean Renoir's Nuit de Carrefourwhich would alert any habitué of the Paris Cinématheque to where Chabrol is going.
Gaza Strip, a feature-length video by American filmmaker James Longley, is a documentary to make the stones weepas shameful as it is scary. Longley spent three months during the spring of 2001 in Gaza. Ariel Sharon had just won the Israeli election and the second intifada was now a fact of life.
Merci Pour le Chocolat
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Chabrol and Caroline Eliacheff, from the novel The Chocolate Cobweb by Charlotte Armstrong
Through August 13 at Film Forum
Directed by James Longley
August 1 through 7 at Anthology Film Archives
The location is a chunk of misery: 1.2 million Palestinians penned up in a 28-by-four-mile slice of nowhere, further diminished by Israeli security installations and six fortified Jewish settlements. Longley's principal subject is a 13-year-old newsboy, Mohammed Hejazi, who is the main support of his family and whose main recreation is playing chicken with Israeli tanksa game at which a number of his friends have already been killed. More than once, Longley shows hospital ERs filled with horribly wounded children.
No future here: Gaza Strip is even more painful in the knowledge that current conditions are worse. (Indeed, the tape was press-screened the morning after Israel liquidated Hamas terrorist Sheik Salah Shehada by dropping a bomb on his Gaza City apartment, killing another 14 peoplemostly childrenin an operation that Sharon moronically boasted was "one of our major successes.") Necessarily up on current events, Mohammed and his fellow newsboys are familiar with Sharon's particular brutishness. They naturally mock and hate Israeli politicians, albeit with scarcely more respect for the Palestinian Authority. "Arafat is a spyhe's taking it up the ass!"
Longley keeps his camera close to his subjects, backing off only to document quotidian atrocities ranging from tanks shelling helpless civilians to the bulldozing of Arab homes to the Israeli army's sickening use of an unidentified form of convulsion-causing gas. Made from the perspective of the Arab on the street, Gaza Strip includes no footage of Jewish settlers or Israeli soldiers or even Palestinian security forces. (Nor is there any sort of historical context explaining the Arab responsibility for how Gaza got to be what it is.) It would be convenient to dismiss this as propaganda. But does it really matter if someone coached young Mohammed's claim that he wants to be a martyr or his dispassionate anticipation of his own death? "It would be easier," the kid says, and after seeing the wretched conditions that the movie documents, who will argue with him?
Anthology Film Archives, which is screening Gaza Strip for a week, could evoke the full cycle of hatred, futility, and despair by flanking this nearly unbearable movie with monitors showing the atrocious aftermath of contemporary Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. To watch Gaza Strip is to watch a ticking time bomb.
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