Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gatekeepers, Twice

I don't think I've ever done this before: watched the same movie on two nights in the same week.  Not quite successive: last night we had a dinner guest.  But tonight and Wednesday, we watched The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh 's documentary comprising extended interviews with the six living former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency.  Maybe my search set isn't large enough to justify an opinion but I'd have to say this is very likely the best documentary I've ever seen.  Face it, most documentaries, certainly including those that get the award nominations, have a a fairly crude and obvious agenda.  I suppose I'll have to grant that Moreh has a sort of an agenda:   Israeli-Palestinian relations are just awful.  But it is hard to think of any comparable product that shows a realm of such unforgiving intractability.

Credit goes to Moreh, of course, but even more to his six interviewees.  Every single one sounds sane, even when they are talking about what may look like the insane moments in their own career.  None seems ready to apologize for much, but none, so far, as I can tell, feels that he accomplished much and none seems to see much hope for the future.

Two viewings.  Partly the problem is just my own ignorance.  I like to think I pay attention to Israeli politics: I've visited there with great pleasure and profit and I could name you most of the prime ministers in something like chronological order.  But lending an ear to these six is, if nothing else, a jarring reminder of just how much there is one might need to know before even pretending to make sense out of so challenging an issue.  

Which raises, perhaps, a second point: I would have done well to do some homework.  Each of these six is a sharply defined individual, with his own issues and his own stories.  On first viewing, I had a tough time keeping them straight. I found myself frantically flailing at Wiki to try to get at some thumbnails. And happily, before this second viewing, I did stumble onto some pretty good capsules at the producers' website.

All that said, I suppose the audience for this product is pretty limited.  I gather that many, perhaps all, of the interviewees have gone public with their views in Israel before now, so nothing would have come as much of a surprise to the home audience (and as others have said, the whole display is a reminder of how much easier it is to talk frankly about Israeli politics in Israel than it is in the United States). And if there's one thing worse than a story with now happy ending, it may be a story with no ending at all.  At least so far.

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