Aiming to stoke outrage through observation and first-person testimony, not via overheated rhetoric, Tears of Gaza documents the Israeli offensive in the eponymous territory during the winter of 2008 and 2009 with a relentlessness rarely seen from the overly conciliatory strain of current-event docs. There's no coddling the audience in Vibeke Løkkeberg's verité heave of disgust as the full consequences on the Palestinian people of Operation Cast Lead are made sickeningly clear.
Alternating between scenes of missile bombardment and the heated results on one hand, and after-the-fact monologues by affected citizens on the other, the film juxtaposes one form of outrage with a quieter but no less damning presentation of evidence. Neither mode is anything less than brutal; while the former scenes are replete with shots of Gaza residents' houses getting blown away, men carrying dead babies from the rubble, and horribly maimed children barely alive in the hospital, the latter sequences are no less wrenching.
Focusing on a trio of children, all of whom lost close relatives in the attack, the interview segments find these young victims relating their stories. While one boy attempts to go on with his life, attending his brother's wedding, declaring his wish to become a doctor to help other victims, and generally offering up a paradoxically beatific presence with his bright eyes and smile, the other two children are less optimistic. Concluding with an extended monologue by one pre-teen girl, the film uses her story of losing her father and being left for dead as the most damning evidence in its arsenal.
But while the film's observational approach limits the amount of outside contextualization it's able to provide (excluding an introductory title card), it uses the testimony of citizens lamenting the difficulty of getting material necessities through the blockade to show the hellish lives of people under occupation, even before the military strike. Still, Løkkeberg's film isn't about political analysis; it's about showing the consequences of irresponsible political action. And show it does, the terrible footage as much a political statement as any sober work of wonkish inquiry. If anything, the film threatens to become numbing because its imperative means it can never let up for a minute, but the director varies her presentation of outrage just enough to keep the viewer freshly indignant.
While one can argue that, by not mentioning the precipitating events behind the Gaza War, Løkkeberg has made an irresponsible film, that line of argument begs the question, "How much context is enough?" The film doesn't mention Hamas's rocket strikes into Israel, but it also doesn't give background on the decades-long occupation that turned Gaza into an unlivable hell. Besides, the actual implementation of Operation Cast Lead was so cruelly out of proportion to the precipitating events, the casualties so one-sided, and the tactics employed by the Israelis so brutal that the director's decision to focus strictly on the effect of the events on the people of Gaza, which she does with unremitting, sickening power, seems to be more than a valid directorial decision. It practically feels like a mandate.