Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tired Jewish Holocaust shtick simply doesn't work on film any more, or anywhere else

‘The Debt’ tries to redeem a lost, lying Israel

(Mondoweiss) -- by Philip Weiss --

I went to "The Debt" last night, the new Miramax thriller based on an Israeli film. I took the film on its own terms, which are very Israeli terms. Culturally-bound, as the anthropologists say. This is a film about Ashkenazi Jews. There are no Palestinians in sight, no Mizrahi Jews either. The characters are Europeans fleeing horror to settle in the Middle East.

On its own terms, the film is kind of great. It's about Israel's foundational lies-- the lies that Israel's first militant generation told about the Holocaust and their own heroism in order to create a nationalist warrior myth for the children.
The three Mossad agents at the center of the film are all hard to like. One is a mendacious, ambitious political tool who does very well in Israeli politics. You hate him. The Helen Mirren character is the movie's hero but she's also kind of despicable. She sticks with the political tool even though she loves the other male Mossad agent, and as for him, well his character is all about the new paradigm of young Israelis doing military service and then traveling to India or South America to smoke dope and decompress. This guy spends years decompressing. He's lost. Just like Israel is lost.

The movie makes mordant jokes about Israel's lostness. When the characters are in East Berlin, capturing the Eichmann/Mengele bad guy, and things go wrong, the political tool Mossad guy says, "The Americans are going to bail us out, don't worry." I wanted to vomit.

Then a few minutes later he finds out that the Americans won't bail them out. "We're all alone." That's about Israel's new fear...

The larger way Israel is lost, the film acknowledges, is that the Holocaust material doesn't work anymore. You see how it once did, in the East Berlin chapters. There's a real Eichmann in Jerusalem feeling to this part of the movie: how Israel used Nazis to constitute its identity far from Europe. The Holocaust material is rendered as parody. The Helen Mirren character, who's lost her mother in the Holocaust, keeps telling Israeli audiences, "When I was desperate, I thought about my mother"-- and you don't buy it...MORE...LINK

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