In Unsettled, director Adam Hootnick turns his lens on the Gaza Strip as Israeli soldiers force Israeli settlers to leave the Palestinian land they have been occupying for the last four decades. But Hootnick tiptoes around the larger context of the story (specifically, why the Israeli government demands the expulsion), which diminishes the overall impact of the film.
The latest documentary to explore one of the many crises in the Middle East, Unsettled looks at a dramatic yet underreported episode that has pitted “brother against brother.” With more breeziness than usually accorded this kind of film, Hootnick tries his best to turn the Israeli resisters into sympathetic individuals, though, just like the more militant settlers in their quest to stay put, he may be battling a lost cause.
The potential benefit of Unsettled is the humanistic way it focuses on just a handful of people involved in the conflict. Perhaps if the world (particularly the Arab world) could see these Israelis struggling to make sense of the decree to leave Gaza, there might be more understanding and tolerance. Still, realistically speaking, it is unlikely the anger and violence will stop anytime soon.
Those profiled include Lior, a beach lifeguard and a settler resistant to leaving; Tamar and Yuval, two soldiers ordered to carry out the evacuation; and Ye’ela, a leftwing activist who believes the policy is correct, despite the fact that her younger sister was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The stories are interesting, sometimes moving, but undercut somewhat by Hootnick’s reliance on a catchy, upbeat score by composer Jon Lee with the Hasidic rapper Matisyahu.
The background about the original reason for building the settlements (as a post-1967 war spoil) is barely discussed—at least not in any substantial way. And there are no Arabs whatsoever in this film, let alone an Arab point of view.
Perhaps we should be grateful for not having to endure a dry history lesson or a lot of arrogant talking heads. Hootnick’s approach is far from perfect (formally or politically), but at least it is engaging and worth debating.