Turn Left at the End of the World

DIASPORA & CONFLICT
As I’ve been told, most Israeli films use conflicts involving cultural integration.
In an Israeli film, there is usually a conflict between two cultural groups.

HISTORY
After scattering from Israel after WWII, and even in previous history, Israelites or Jews have moved to all continents and have adapted to the cultures there. Upon returning to Israel, the ‘caucasian’ Jews are given more benefits than the Mediterranean or African Jews. Housing and jobs are structured around racial profiling.

GENDER
That is the issue in the movie, “Turn Left at the End of the World”. The characters in the film are also predominantly female, and the males are seen as passive characters.

GAZE
One aspect of the film to be considered is ‘the gaze’. Is it a subjective gaze, objectified gaze, or oppositional gaze. There is the gaze of Simone and the Indian husband who look at each other on the bus and at the factory. There is the gaze of the Indians looking at the Moroccan Jews, and vice versa. These gazes objectify the ‘other’ through ideas of exoticism or foreign-ness. There is also the gaze of the young girl when she is dancing, or of the teacher from Tel Aviv when she visits him. It is very objective and these scenes reflect the lack of honor and naivity of the youth in Israel at the time (1960s).

CULTURE, RACISM & VALUES
Also I have some comments on the occurances in the film.
It is sad that Jews from all corners of the world were promised great opportunities in Israel but upon arrival, couldn’t escape because no ride would take people back through the desert. It is also upsetting to see the small community in the film act strangely. People start to act lawlessly with one another, and people try to stay true to their former cultures, by segregating themselves in their homes, their bars, through sports and so on.

It is sad that these Israelites, since they have practiced in other cultures for so long- have little similarity to the ‘fundamental’ Israelite community thousands of years ago. Perhaps it is not expected of them today. However, in the film there was not even a synagogue or church or any form of worship scene-which I found strange. Because the origin of the Israelite was defined as the man who had a covanent with God. They were God’s chosen people, and in the future it was prophecized that they would gather again as a nation- However, I didn’t realize that they would act like this…

I assume that the film is bringing such issues to light to explain the pros and cons of diaspora. A diaspora film usually highlights and acknowledges the cultures that now are part of identity.

I realize that perhaps it was also the director’s intention to allow the British Indians to appear as smarter than the Moroccans. This would have been a tool to dignify these characters since they are the newer additions to the suburb in Israel. However, the fact that a man from Tel Aviv, a Moroccan, and an Indian all end up in the same problems reveals that there is a commonality among the people- and that is their lack of self control.

GOALS AND REALITIES:
I thought that people who established their own lives in other countries would have returned to Israel- knowing that it would be a struggle to build a unified state. If I were one of those characters, i’d try to bring my ideals into the community thinking of everyone’s benefits. In the film, this happened by fluke, when the Indians and Moroccans play cricket together and the British press come to document the match. Since there is a political event taking place around that time, many politicians opt to help in Israel’s problems, such as factory work safety.

Kandahar 2001

On one level, this film is about a woman’s search for her sister on a tight timeline, before she commit suicide. On a secondary level, it is about a woman’s identity on her return home. On a third level, it is about the physical necesities such as medical economic problems within the desert.  These physical realities may contrast the security of the protagonist and may also hint at the atrocities commited in Kandahar.
 
 Themes of gender identity involve love, marriage, expectation of income. The protagonit must hide herelf and trasnform into a fake wife throughout her journey. She assimilate into the culture but remains tied to modernity with a tape recorder. A second theme other than gender is modernity. Legs falling from the sky from the Red Cross Helicopter suggest the benefit of modernity in a traditional culture. Tradition on the other hand is exemplified through an ideological academic system were boys study the Qu’ran to eventually earn a living. 
 
The doctor might symbolize the decay of traditionalism when he mentions that most of the sicknesses in the people are easily cured but they are uneducated. Even traditional event like marraige are used to hide identities especially when crossing borders. There i little trust among the characters and there is a big divide between the foreign doctor, red cross, and protagonist compared to the others.  
 
The narrative itself is not about conflict but rather steps in a journey, referencing to an ancient folkloric way of storytelling. There is also different dialects such as Russian, English, Arabic and possibly languages from Iran. 
 
Only  physical things like painting nails, or buying fake legs add joy and freedom and are possibly messages the director is using to say how physically bound people are ideologically, and through polticical spaces.

Space in Kandahar

Space can be represented as an imagined community that becomes real through physical attributes. Space in the movie Kandahar is represented in socio-political and visual forms.

Most of the setting occurs in the arid desert where there is endless space. However, the journey narrative structure shrinks this space by introducing national borders, and institutional borders. Characters also use space to reflect the existence or lack of intimacy and trust in their relationships.

Examples of national borders are like that between Iran, Afghanistan and Kandahar. These borders become defining lines between safe and unsafe spaces, especially in the introductory scene were Iranians are robbed in the desert. National borders are also seen at the end of the film where a caravan of people stop to be processed before entry into new territory with an extreme set of laws. Narratively the space of Khandahar seems claustrophobic because it is defined as a place of oppression in a character’s letter. However, it is also defined as an open space in which one may not escape.

Institutional space is recognized in the introduction where young male students study the Qu’ran in a school. The gates of the school create a divide between those with a future and those without. This is evident in the scene were Khak changes clothes with a new student and leaves the school. It is also evident in a scene where school teachers give out bread outside the gates, and are terrorized with hungry locals. Moreover, the space outside the gate is synonymous with the space of the desert which is full of sickness and death.

Back in Iran, there is also a space of refuge where students line to listen to a warning about land mines. The students being primarily female treat the space like a playground, and are instructed to view dolls as mines. The space is institutional, orderly, and associated with freedom.

In comparison the institutional space of the Red Cross in the desert has a different set of laws. People negotiate to have a certain pair of prosthetics. Two foreigners assess and control each patient. This space is one of conflict and desperation where there are more patients than there are prosthetics. It is also a space of mis-communication. The space is lastly, a place of re-identification, where the selection of prosthetics empowers men and women in re-integrating into society as an able person.

Aside from national or institutional spaces, there is also personal space. Personal space is evident in the scene where the protagonist isolates herself into the space of her burqa. The small space of the car also establishes a space of trust among her and other family members. At the campsite, the space between the men and the women is traditional, religious and gendered.

There is also a space of developing conflict, seen between Khak and the protagonist. In the scene when Khak chases the protagonist with a corpse’s ring, the hilly plains of the desert become a vulnerable place without cover. Conflicts often occur in these spaces where routes exist. For example, while travelling on a cart, the protagonist has an argument with a thief who wants to sell his prosthetics. Also, on a path the protagonist struggles to decide which group to follow for protection until she reaches Kandahar.

In contrast, the space of the doctor’s office is like a consulate where the protagonist can speak in her own language and only be understood by the doctor. Her problem and inability to understand the locals is solved in this space of negotiation. This space is a place of healing and equality in comparison to the school where students are trained to kill and are not equal.

The theme of gendered space continues even in the space of the doctor’s office, where the protagonist is separated from the doctor through a curtain. To eliminate gendered borders, one must imagine that the two are married, or one must change their gender by changing their appearance. This idea of change also relates to the doctor’s identity, who assimilates into local culture through dress code.

Lastly, the space of the burqa highlights an issue of trust and mistrust, understanding and miscommunication. In one scene the protagonist cannot see the reactions or feelings of women she is about to meet. The burqa becomes a space of defense against anyone. It also becomes a space of isolation and protection in the end when the protagonist likens it to a jail.

2. The space looks physically empty but as an imaginary space includes unknown dangers and therefore is not empty. The space is also defined as the characters journey through it, and borders are created through gendered or medical or academic practices.

3. Is it something that we see being conquered or acquired?
The space cannot be conquered but many spaces are used for conflict between thieves, the hungry, or between the legless patients who hop to retrieve Red Cross gifts from a helicopter.

4. Is it connected to a particular national or cultural identity?
Yes.

5. How does the representation of space connected to the narrative, message or political sensibility?

Space is imagined. Much of the narrative is narrated by the protagonist and events are re-imagined for the sake of her sister. The message is that space can always or is always re-defined by politicians, volunteers, locals, or refugees. There are traditional ways of preserving order in space. There is contrast between a space that favours science, and another that favours religion over other needs.

The danger in the desert makes some areas necessary to establish as spaces of protection or  re-identification; in order to be safe. The constantly changing laws of each space make it difficult to maintain a stable identity. One commonality among all is hope for the better.

Post-colonial Narrative Essay

 “Days of Glory” (2006): A post-colonial narrative about the “Middle East”

     The “Middle East” can be portrayed cinematically through the eyes of a westerner or easterner, or both. Through formal and narrative aspects, it is easy to distinguish which perspective is favored. Furthermore, an analysis of these aspects can describe whether the film belongs to a colonial or post-colonial perspective, which defines the intended message and audience. Such an analysis can be applied to the film, “Days of Glory” (2006) directed by Rachid Bouchareb. The post-colonial and Arab portrayal of the Middle East will be analyzed through formal and narrative aspects.

     The film, “Days of Glory” is told through the eyes of formerly colonized Arabs during a post-colonial era. Although the age of colonialism is over, the Arabs and their former colonizers maintain old colonial attitudes and class structures within the army. In the foreign European setting of the film, the soldiers represent the ”Middle East” as a transitioning character seeking reconciliation and recognition. The desire for recognition or belonging is part of the film’s main theme of cultural identity. Moreover, these themes pertain to the counter narrative structure of storytelling, which is told through the perspective of the colonized.

     The post-colonialist and counter-narrative perspective can be understood through the construction of characters, events and themes. For example the establishment of the hero, the narrative goal, the conflict between chaos and order, and the approach to patriarchy are important.

     Unlike a colonial film, “Days of Glory” does not tell the story of one colonizing hero but many colonized victims. The film is also narrated by a colonized voice where the role of the French colonizer is not sympathized. Moreover, although Arabs are portrayed as heroes, their achievements are ignored, and therefore they are defined as victims. This establishment of the ‘hero’ is post-colonial. Secondly, the narrative goals differ from that of a colonial film.

     Unlike colonial characters, characters in “Days of Glory” do not focus on conquering land. Rather, their narrative goal is to establish racial unity among the French and secure a new cultural identity. This struggle is seen through the chaos of war where a series of ethical battles are won and lost. Like most post-colonial films, chaos reigns over order, and characters do not end in triumph.

     One conflict between chaos and order is portrayed in the dining hall where non-French soldiers destroy a basket of tomatoes after hearing that they are reserved for the French. This act of chaos also challenges the colonialist ideology of patriarchy.

     The aforementioned narrative patterns and themes of recognition and identity are best represented in the bunker scene where Saïd and Messaoud fight. This fight exposes their personal struggles of securing a new cultural identity among the French. A visual and narrative analysis of the scene will explain the conflict in detail.

     The conflict setting is portrayed as private and disturbing because of the lowly lit bunker. Appearances aside, the dialogue also reflects the mood and perspectives of the characters.

     The conflict begins when Messaoud jokingly identifies Saïd as a child-like and feminine. By doing this Messaoud challenges Saïd’s manhood and independence. Saïd then confronts Messaoud’s inability to communicate with his French ‘girlfriend’ and after further taunts threatens to kill Messaoud. Saïd also confronts Abdelkader when he intervenes.

     Saiid says, “What does your book say? Continue reading that book but do you think (name) will be a colonel? Or (name) will be a colonel?” Here, it is also notable that the word, “colonel” is a western term. Saïd suggests that no Arab will ever hold a western title. In this scene, Said confronts all of the men’s desires to be acknowledged despite their race. This is the main theme in the film. Saïd’s doubt ridicules the different forms of recognition such as love, friendship, or honour. This scene of pan-arab disunity and self-hate exposes the weaknesses of the characters and the uncertainty of their future identity.

     Other than setting and dialogue, camera angles also reflect the mood in the scene. When Saiid is talking to Messaoud and Abdelkader, there is an intimate shot reverse shot pattern. However, when he gestures against the soldiers, the camera rests behind their shoulders. This ‘over the shoulder’ shot is generally used to show the distance and contrast between one character and another. Another shot pattern establishes Saiid as tense and alone in a dark corner when compared to a shot where soldiers are standing side by side looking surprisingly at him.

     Although the camera sets up the scene for Saiid to look antagonist, it also takes on different character’s perspectives or ‘gazes’. For example, when Saiid chooses to threaten Messaoud, the camera is angled up from his short position so that the spectator can imagine his perspective of Messaoud from below. The camera also takes the perspective of Messaoud when he talks to Saiid. The camera therefore re-establishes a sense of equality among all perspectives.

     In conclusion, the formal aspects of the scene set up expectations for privacy, antagonism, and character sympathy through lighting, space, and camera angles.This scene also reflects the struggles in cultural identity that occur later on. Other examples that support the theme of unrecognized and unfulfilled identity are as follows.

     As the narrative progresses, a Frenchman with less leadership than Abdelkader is promoted instead of him. Another example of unrecognition is when Messaoud unknowingly has his love letters censored. Ultimately, unethical and racist decisions like this fulfill All soldiers’ doubts of recognition.

     In conclusion, the film “Days of Glory” is narrated using a colonized perspective that portrays the “Middle East” as an unrecognized hero. In other words, The “Middle East” is portrayed as a culture that has not fulfilled its goals in establishing a powerful identity among the French. This portrayal of the “Middle East” is established using characters and events that belong to the counter narrative structure.

     Despite its ties to various ancient civilizations, westerners have often identified the “Middle East” as a foreign and savage land. However, the recent history of post-colonialism, globalism, and the war in the Middle East have sparked an interest in studying and re-creating films about Arab identity. Such is the case for Rachid Bouchareb who directed the post-colonial war film “Days of Glory” (2006).

     By analyzing the film’s formal and narrative aspects, one can understand the film’s message, author and intended audience. In this age, it is especially important to view “Middle Eastern” films with a critical eye, in order to understand the various and challenging perspectives on politics and identity.

The Four Feathers (2002)

Some might wonder, why would anyone re-make a film from 1939? Or why would anyone care about British colonialism in the Middle East? Is every 1800’s British story only for the Jane Eyre and Virginia Wolf romantics?

Actually alot past issues, themes, or ideas can be re-interpreted today, to symbolize our feelings about current events. For example, the British desire to conquer parts of Arabia and trade with the East- is alot like the American desire to conquer the Middle East today.

So an 1800’s movie that seems to be about British love, like the “Four Feathers” really isn’t about  love at all. It’s themes are about courage, and identity despite adversity. Young Harry, a man who is born into a bloodline of former soldiers, is destined for war. A once naive rugby player, Harry must mature quickly when he realizes war is not a game. It is going into a foreign land and losing means death. The reality of leaving home scares him into giving up his duty as a soldier completely. But later on, at the risk of his best friend dying, he travels to save his life. 

The theme here about courage creates a pretty picture about what a dignified man should do.  However, in the film, it also reveals soldier’s inability to fight for their nation. Although they are patriotic, they dont know the importance or te reason for their mission. As Harry asks, “What does the Queen have to do with Arabia?”.

Therefore, the film suggests that courage does not usually stem from patriotism, but from comraderie. (In extreme cases, we can see the importance of masculine comraderie in “Brokeback Mountain” 2005). This motive in the film, leads spectators to question their reasons for going into war, which affects so many lives on both sides. One could say that this theme of uncertain patriotism can be applied to the war in Iraq (for WMD) where soldiers fought unknowingly to find oil. 

There is another theme in the film other than courage, comraderie and uncertainty. It is about representation of identity among locals and foreigners. Unfotunately,as a representeative of Britain, Harry looks isolated among Arabs and slaves. The Arabs are representated as rude and cruel, and their lifestyles and beliefs are not explained in details-leaving the enemy with  a simplified identity. The film seems to serve for western audiences who already seem Arabs as exotic and antagonistic. The film also  painted a nicer picture of the African american slave as if to suggest that the west has moved on from one enemy to  another.

There is more to say about this film, but these are the simplest and most relevant themes pertaining to issues today.

Battle of the Algiers (1966)

I really liked this movie because the director, Gillo Pontecorvo filmed events in North Africa using Italian Realism cinematography and narrative style. This familiar style localizes events that would otherwise be ‘foreign’ to westerners like me.

My personal interest for war movies stems from the desire to witness the breakdown and rebuilding of identity and society. Films that are identified clearly as propaganda can be boring because of their predictability. On the other hand, films that pay hommage to sad events can be overwhelming and overstimulating to the point where I feel manipulated to view war only from one perspective. To me, a great ‘war’ film  explains events from various perspectives using different methods.

The Battle of the Algiers was sympathetic to both French and Arab goals.

Let us start with Arab sympathy. This was evident in the introductory scene when Algerian men and women hide behind a wall in fear of being murdered. Their faces are lit and stark lighting suggests that their hiding space is small.

As the narrative develops, more Algerians join a resistance group called the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) and commit single-handed atrocities against French police. The French respond by bombing several towns.

In this second scene, Pontecorvo creates sympathy for the Algerians by replacing the sound with classical music. The scene looks almost like a news reel whereby people move around rubble haphazardly. Pontecorvo suggests the audience look at destruction from another perspective. Perhaps his desire behind the music is to give dignity to the victims, and incite sympathy in the audience by using familiar music.

Ironically, sympathy for Algerians is also achieved in the scene where three women bomb a French cafe and disco. At first, Pontecorvo creates spectator curiousity when he shows the women transforming their appearances from Arab to French. They cut their hair, and change their clothes to reveal their arms, necks, and legs. Some also speak French fluently. This scene sent a message that one cannot be judged by their appearances.

The women were few in number and agreed to use bombs for self-defence. Their goals as a minority for liberation were sympathized in the film. This is especially evident in the scene when they pass inspection into a French quarter. One mother must leave her child with a stranger and has a frightened face because of her fear of getting imprisoned. Another woman dances (probably for the first time) in a French cafe, and leaves the bomb in a plant.

She looks around curiously as if almost reconsidering the damage she will cause but leaves as if she is disturbed by her own emotions. Of course, it is wrong to interpret what the characters might be thinking-there is no way of knowing. But the various interpretations from these scenes add to the issue: who is victim, and who is culprit?

Pontecorvo also incites sympathy for the French. In the same scene, there are clips of a baby boy, unsuspecting girls and boys dancing, men laughing amidst conversation. Also in the scenes whereby policemen are murdered- it must be Pontecorvo’s intent for the spectator to ask why such acts ‘seem’ or ‘are’ necessary in a revolution or war.

Other than inciting sympathy for both sides, Pontecorvo also reveals mild cultural differences.  Many shots reflect the scattered perspective of residential houses with open rooves. There is one vertical pan, during a wedding where the camera looks at the couple then looks up past many floors up onto the roof where people are witnessing the occasion. During this scene, the presider suggests they perform the wedding quickly because of political circumstances. However, the girl and boy look very innocent and happy, similar to Romeo and Juliet. There is classical music playing as well as chants and wails. Similar music is played during scenes of liberation or motivation.

Thirdly, Pontecorvo looks at the defensive tactics of the Arabs and the French. As a spectator, it is enlightening to be invited to understand such things since most movies gloss over the reality of social and political organization. There is a scene where the French look over camera footage of inspection, and imagine the hierarchic structure of the FLN where most members do not know each other personally. There are also scenes where the FLN meet and direct individuals to perform different tasks.

Similar to the bombing scene in the French quarter, the press-media scene questions the ethics of war. In an interview, a Frenchman says that the Arab’s basket-bombs are menacing but also pathetic because they are hidden. Alternatively, an Arab FLN says something like, “we’ll stop using our baskets when you stop using your bombs”. In this scene it is easy to see that both groups are victimizing each other.