Film Review: In the Land of Pomegranates

An inexhaustible subject gets a less than efficacious workover here.
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Eighty-two-year-old Hava Kohav Beller takes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in her documentary, which derives its title from the double meaning of the word “pomegranates”—according to her interviewees—as the familiarly known fruit as well as slang for hand grenades. It would be nice to say that this veteran filmmaker has made a definitive, coherent and even-handed study of her extraordinarily difficult subject. But, for all of its good intentions, and the odd moving or trenchant moment, such a description would be impossible, for her film is an unwieldy, unfocused work that gets lost in its own ambitious striving for objectivity and scope.

Beller focuses on various storylines here: the coming together in Germany of a group consisting of young Israelis and Palestinians for a shared discourse that would hopefully lead to salubrious, mutual understanding; a former photographer of terrorist activities who suffers from severe post-trauma distress, after a bus he was riding was bombed; a cynically adaptable mother struggling to achieve a kind of normalcy as she raises her kids in the shadow of the Gaza wall that confines her, and, most movingly, a Palestinian woman whose young son has a life-saving heart operation performed by an Israeli doctor who admirably does not differentiate between his patients, whatever their background.

The director’s habit of hopping around from story to story is more annoying than enriching, and her constant insertion of bloody footage of the victims of the conflict at “pertinent” moments sometimes nearly veers into downright exploitation. She underlines the irony of this endless Middle East idiot’s delight with too many shots of the serenely lovely landscapes where death and destruction run rampant. It all pretty much boils down to her making a point and then remaking it over and over again to the point of exasperation.

That youth group takes up a lot of screen time, and while many of them are quite physically beautiful as camera subjects, what comes out of their mouths is, unfortunately, not so pretty or always deserving of such attention. One Palestinian compares his people’s plight in their former land now occupied by Israelis, who make them feel a stranger in it, to that of the Jews in the Holocaust—who, he adds, actually had it better because at least their deaths were instantaneous. Out of the mouths of babes...sometimes comes just a lot of poop and Beller’s lack of judiciousness in what she has decided to include here proves fatal to the serious intent of her film.

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