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With hopes it will come tumbling down

Times Staff Writer

“Wall” will surprise you. A documentary on one of the Middle East’s most incendiary issues, the separation barrier between Israel and the largely Palestinian West Bank, “Wall” is a deeply personal and unexpectedly poetic film. It’s also political enough to call to mind Robert Frost’s famous line “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

A self-described Arab Jew who was born in Morocco, works in France and is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, director Simone Bitton has said when she first heard about the wall, intended to deter suicide bombings, “I had the feeling that I was being cut in half, that who I am was being denied.” Her personal agony joined to that of the people on both sides of the wall makes this a film that is fascinating and despairing about what is actually happening on the ground.

Anyone who cares about the Middle East knows about the enormous barrier, part concrete barricade, part electronic fence, and, when completed, scheduled to extend for some 400 miles at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. But most people do not have much of an idea of what it looks like, and it’s here that “Wall” unexpectedly excels.

Fluidly photographed with an artist’s eye by cinematographer Jacques Bouquin, the wall is first glimpsed in its most benign form, from a section of the Israeli side covered by colorful painted murals.

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Seen from the other side, its miles of slab concrete are a display of brute force that is disturbing physically and unsettling psychologically.

Most unsettling of all is a segment that allows us to watch through a stationary camera as huge concrete monoliths are manipulated into place like enormous tombstones to create a new section of the wall. The workers are all Palestinian (“If not for them, it would take another 50 years to build,” someone says) and the effect as the last slab is put into place and abruptly blocks out everything feels sadly inhuman.

Though Gen. Amos Yaron, the frank, unapologetic director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, emphasizes the wall’s efficacy in “reducing the penetrative capacity” of potential attackers, “Wall” also points out the way it effectively cuts Palestinians off from their land (forcing them to leave crops to rot) as well as from their jobs.

As remarkable as “Wall’s” visuals are the casual conversations it records with people who live on both sides of the barrier. These are average citizens who are often heard on off-camera audio as they stand next to Bitton and look at the massive wall along with her.

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“Without peace, the fence is worthless, a waste of money,” one man says. “I’ve had enough suffering,” says another. “We need to live together and leave our destiny to God.” Another, an Israeli, talks of how his countrymen’s passion for the land is “a mad love, a possessive love, the kind that seizes all.” He talks about how the Israelis have in effect ghettoized themselves with this wall, concluding, “All the Jews in Israel have lost their minds.”

The compelling thing about these interviews is that since people on both sides of the wall share the same frustration and contempt for the political situation, unless you are familiar with Hebrew or Arabic, you can’t tell whether a given speaker is Israeli or Palestinian, and that is exactly the film’s point. Two peoples sharing not only the same land but the same nightmare, both desperately hoping that it will end soon.

*

‘Wall’

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult subject matter

Released by Lifesize Entertainment. Director Simone Bitton. Screenplay Simone Bitton. Cinematographer Jacques Bouquin. Sound Jean-Claude Brisson. In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

At Laemmle’s Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581.

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