Thursday, November 05, 2009

A French Paradox

Following on the controversy over the Toronto International Film Festival's showcasing Tel-Aviv a couple of months back, the roadshow moves on to Paris. Le Forum des Halles, the excellent municipal-run cinemathèque in the Les Halles shopping centre is hosting 'Tel-Aviv : le paradoxe', a season of films set and filmed in the Israeli city, which celebrates its centenary this year. The season, which started yesterday and runs until the 25th of November, contains a far wider range of films than were shown in Toronto, both contemporary and from the past, such as Ephraim Kishon's Arvinka (1967) and Avi Nesher's Dizengoff 99 (1979). Unlike Toronto it also looks likely to be a more self-critical look at the city (the title alone suggests that) with prominent leftist filmmakers Eytan Fox, Amos Gitaï and Ronit Elkabetz among others appearing as guests, a series of debates on Tel-Aviv's bubble-like status as a tolerant liberal haven strangely free of an Arab population, and there's even place for Hany Abu-Assad's Oscar-winning Palestinian film Paradise Now, which tells of two Palestinians' attempt at a suicide bombing in the city.

But not everyone's happy. There's nothing like the brouhaha that followed John Greyson's protest at Toronto, but prominent pro-Palestinian activist Michèle Sibony (who, for what it matters, is herself Jewish) has written a letter to the cinema directors decrying the decision to showcase Tel-Aviv only ten months after the murderous Gaza invasion. Her letter goes a bit like this:

"You have entitled your homage "Tel-Aviv - the paradox, wishing, no doubt to suggest an ambivalence or a certain ambiguity. Tel-Aviv is not a paradox, it is rather proof: a 'Capital of Segregation and Apartheid'. Constructed on the expulsion and destruction of Palestinian villages, it has completely rid itself of any Palestinian presence since the so-called 'Oslo peace process'. The bubble, as it likes to call it, is a city as white as Cape Town was during the Apartheid years."

Even for those of us sympathetic to the Palestinian cause it's a drearily familiar tread through the verbiage of official letter-writing. Not that Michèle Sibony isn't entitled to her stance but it is curious that the season has failed to stimulate much protest beyond this, and Paris is certainly not lacking militants for the Palestinian cause. Is it the Parisian cinephilia that allows one to dissassociate unpleasant acts and behaviour from enjoyment of good films, or do most people see the season as being far from a whitewash of Tel-Aviv? I suspect it might be the latter. As for  myself, I'll be staying away, less out of conviction, than simply due to the fact I have seen most of the contemporary films showing, including Raphaël Nadjari's excellent Avanim, Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's To Take a Wife and Fox's Walk on Water. I have films to watch elsewhere, not to mention fences to tend to before sitting on.


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