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For a documentary about the First Intifada, The Wanted 18 initially looks a lot like a cartoon. Animated black-and-white ink drawings and Claymation sequences open the film, and cows graze in a meadow, shaking their heads, speaking in throaty, goofy, tender voices. Isn’t this film about Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation? Aren’t oppressed people often depicted as animals to dehumanize them? This movie about violence and how it comes into intimate spaces refuses to make even animals only animal. It’s beautiful and important and very strange.
These cows stand in for a real herd of eighteen cattle farmed by Palestinians in the small town of Beit Sahour in a bid for agricultural independence. Though Palestinians don’t traditionally raise cattle, the people of the town purchased the animals from an Israeli kibbutz to give their community some livelihood and stability — but even this small demonstration of independence drew aggression from Israel — which, crucially, is also depicted as a terrible government composed of flawed people. Something to remember: Though intifada is often translated as “uprising,” the literal Arabic meaning is closer to “shaking.” War and occupation make ordinary life unstable, sometimes nearly untenable. The cows are fussy and fearful. Is it easier for audiences to see and recognize their fear than the fear of Palestinians?
The story comes together via interviews with local Palestinians and academics, and intimate scenes with the director and cartoonist Amer Shomali, who recounts the sad story with rueful self-awareness and humor. He’s refreshing, engaging, and speaks directly about personal and historical pain. Not accusing, just opening. Making a space to laugh, to remain inconveniently and honestly human.
The Wanted 18
Directed by Paul Cowan and Amer Shomali
Distributed by Kino Lorber
Opens June 19, Cinema Village