Tuesday, 28 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015 - CENSORED VOICES - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****

Censored Voices (2015)
Dir. Mor Loushy

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Censored Voices might be one of the most profound anti-war films made in recent years. Though the backdrop is the 1967 Arab–Israeli Six Day War, the picture brilliantly transcends all contemporary controversies, acting simply and poetically as a testament to the madness of all war and the reality that it's the "people" who suffer as much, if not more than the armed forces.

A few weeks after the war, writers Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira conducted a series of interviews (on reel-to-reel tape) with numerous Israeli soldiers. These tapes were suppressed and/or heavily redacted by the Israeli government for over 40 years until filmmaker Mor Loushy accessed the unexpurgated audio to listen intently to these young men, to hear their thoughts on what they'd just been through.

Blending news footage, archival materials and using the audio tapes as narrators, Loushy provides a shocking, surprising and deeply moving experience. Tracking down some of the original interviewees, all now old men, Loushy combines the aforementioned with gorgeously lit/composed shots of these former soldiers - listening silently to their own voices from 1967. Their voices from back then, reveal the unexpected. Their faces reveal all.

This profoundly and decisively victorious war is how Israel laid claim to Gaza, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank. Decimating the enemy's military forces was a veritable cakewalk, but the real war endured by the Israeli soldiers turned out to be, at least for many of them, a much more haunting, tragic and frustrating experience than the fields of battle.

In the historic interviews, we hear men - young men some 40+ years ago - who are deeply saddened, confused, conflicted, disappointed, if not outright shocked that they found themselves at war with civilians. It's as if they were front-line pawns, but not as cannon fodder as so many young soldiers in war are. While the trauma is still fresh in their youthful minds, we hear devastating stories of non-military personnel being gunned down, beaten, tortured, corralled and forced to leave their homes.

The soldiers, it seemed, were no longer fighting-men, but glorified cattle herders.

In reality, they were not soldiers, they were occupiers.

The men are expected to rejoice over the return of many historical places to Israel, but they can't. They are privy to the suffering of innocent people, even forced to be the instruments of the dehumanizing process of destabilizing and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and become refugees.

As one of the men states, this has nothing to do with God and/or The Torah. These are, after all, physical structures which have been won. There's nothing in Judaic culture about the holiness of a place. It's the human spirit and God that are Holy.

So many of these stories are heartbreakers - especially since director Loushy leads us into the film with the happy, hopeful sense of statehood and the determination of a people to reclaim what was once theirs so many millennia ago. The skill, training and superiority of the Israeli armed forces is simply a forgone conclusion. The strategy and surprise Israel employed is also a thing of beauty (albeit a terrible beauty). In fact, we get a sense that the war is a masterstroke of military genius and might. It's all the shining stuff of good, old fashioned boys' adventure. The qualities of the sublime dissipate quickly, however.

The questions many of the men ask do indeed resonate in a contemporary context. They wonder, so long ago, how a nation (Israel) constantly under attack, surrounded by enemy states can ever really and truly be a nation? Alternately, others feel that a nation which must occupy in a kind of perpetuity can also never truly be a nation.

Hearing these sweet, young men facing such complex moral dilemmas so soon after a victory they should be celebrating, forces them (and us) to confront realities that have always been at the core of war. To hear these voices juxtaposed with actual footage from the period, but most evocatively, against the silent faces of the old men who listen to the sound of their own voices has a strong element of poetic tragedy coursing through the entire film.

Though the current conflicts between Israel and Palestine can't be ignored in the context of Censored Voices, Loushy seems far more interested in capturing a reality that ultimately faces all of us, especially once we recognize and accept that a Six Day War, a 60-day war or a six-year war - at any time, any where - is still war and that the true casualties of war are the innocent on both sides of the equation.

Hearing the story of Arab men - civilians, no less - standing with their hands raised in the hot sun for hours on end would be despairing enough, but to hear that they've been filling their shoes with their own urine in order to have something to drink, is infused with the kind of sorrow we, as an audience, can never forget. Clearly, the soldiers don't forget this either, as they recount how these same Arab men, learning they'll be given fresh, cool water, collapse in front of the soldiers, kissing their feet in gratitude as they also retch and vomit upon the soldiers' boots. This sequence (and so many others like it) grind our collective faces into the realities of both war and nationhood.

Occupation is not nationhood. It's merely the residual blight of war - one in which we are all guilty of, and as such, a party to the inherent shame of it all.

Censored Voices enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2015. For info visit the Hot Docs website HERE.