The Arty Semite

Friday Film: Lost on the Way to the Witness Stand

By Ronen Shnidman

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Testimony” is the rare movie that contains all the building blocks of an aesthetically powerful political statement, only to fall short in its execution. Put plainly, “Testimony” — which recently screened at the Haifa International Film Festival and the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival — amounts to a good deal less than the sum of its parts.

If one were to make checklist of ingredients for a good film, “Testimony” would have most, if not all of them. A script based on true and emotionally loaded life experiences? Check. A strong political message? Check. An ensemble cast made up of veteran actors and some relatively fresh faces? Check. The creative use of imagery and cinematography? Check. Yet, at the end of the film, the viewer feels like it just doesn’t hold together.

Blurring the line between documentary, fictionalized reenactment, and a standalone piece of theatrical cinema, “Testimony” creates on film the feeling of a courtroom witness stand. What makes the film politically powerful and relevant is its detailed description of some of the reprehensible acts committed by IDF soldiers against West Bank Palestinians, drawn from actual soldiers’ and civilians’ testimonials documented by the human rights organizations Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence.

These witness accounts form the film’s core and raison d’être, but the artistic choices and lack of strong direction don’t do justice to the visceral quality of the stories. Specifically, director Shlomi Elkabetz’s use of veteran Israeli actors such as his sister, Ronit Elkabetz, as well as Albert Iluz and Esti Zackheim to portray abused Palestinian civilians dampens the power of their testimonies. It’s a bit difficult to empathize with a Palestinian father abused by IDF soldiers when he’s played by an actor like Iluz, whose most memorable roles include an adulterous husband and a deadbeat dad from “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” or worse, a conniving Palestinian terrorist and drug smuggler in “Holy Land.” The same can be said for many of the other actors in “Testimony.”

Just as problematic, to the best of this reviewer’s knowledge, not a single actor in the film is either Arab or Palestinian. Israel certainly has Hebrew-speaking Arab actors who have appeared in Israeli feature films. Why no Israeli-Arab thespians were cast for roles in this movie is a perplexing question. Rather, “Testimony” is left with one of the main problems that has plagued the region’s peacemaking efforts, namely, the lack of regular, non-confrontational interactions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, one has a movie about the Occupation featuring Jewish Israeli soldiers oppressing Palestinians played by Jewish Israelis, but nowhere are any actual Palestinians to be found or heard until the film’s concluding song.

In contrast to the film’s casting choices, “Testimony,” displays excellent use of imagery and space by cinematographer David Adika. The use of tranquil, natural backgrounds during the testimonials accentuates the dramatic intensity of the characters’ accounts. It is no wonder that Adika won the 2011 Haifa International Film Festival award for best cinematography.

Adika’s good eye for still imagery helps transform each testimony in the film into a dramatic scene, but the interweaving of these separate accounts lacks any clear logic, leaving a series of powerful vignettes without a strong narrative structure. This lack of flow and direction further detracts from the film’s documentary value, and the viewer is left only with one moral: war is bad. In the end, “Testimony” is an interesting exercise in filmmaking and cinematic imagery, but it is not a movie capable of bringing an important issue to the attention of a wide audience and keeping it there.

Watch the trailer for ‘Testimony’:

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ronen Shnidman, Shlomi Elkabetz, Haifa International Film Festival, Documentaries, Film, David Adika, Testimony

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.