Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar’s 9 Star Hotel follows a band of Palestinian day laborers as they attempt to make a living illegally crossing the border into the Israeli city of Modi’in for work. A silent spectator, Haar generates intimate kinship between viewer and subject via a handheld camera that assumes the position of a group member around campfire meals and amid flights from police, during which the image devolves into a herky-jerky blur. Largely focusing on two young best friends, garbage scavenger Ahmed and construction worker Muhammad, the film is an often-touching portrait of the anxiety, desperation, hardship, and dangers of such a life, in which the men reside in makeshift huts—or simply covered beds—out in the rocky hills overlooking the city, surreptitiously scurry across bumpy terrain and busy highways to find employment, and remain prepared to abandon everything in order to escape patrolling law enforcement. Haar is sympathetic to their perilous condition, which is threatened by the erection of Israel’s security fence, and analogized in one scene as an unstable rock building (dubbed a “9 Star Hotel”) that Ahmed playfully builds. Yet the director shrewdly refrains from condemning the (unseen) military forces whose responsibility it is to locate and eject illegal Palestinian immigrants, instead allowing political commentary to come through the men’s curses regarding police conduct and Muhammad’s countervailing opinion that their culture (“We think backward, we never think forward”) and the Palestinian Authority (“Liberation my foot”) are to blame for their situation. A general avoidance of the big picture in favor of the immediate here-and-now, however, negates any substantial investment in—or analysis of—the action at hand, as it’s frustratingly difficult to glean larger insights when Haar deliberately avoids addressing the two overarching issues that have a bearing on these state of affairs: the justness of Israel’s immigration policy, and the economic conditions in the Palestinian territory that drive men to sneak across the border to provide for themselves and their families. 9 Star Hotel is an empathetic portrait of a particular human circumstance, but without greater context, it ultimately feels like only half the story.
Score:Director: Ido Haar Distributor: Koch Lorber Films Running Time: 78 min Rating: NR Year: 2007 Buy: Video