Mor Loushy’s Censored Voices is impressive in scope, but stagnant in vision. The film neglects to present its newly unearthed archival materials in a manner that speaks to more than Loushy’s skills at found-footage assemblage. Following the Six Day War in 1967, a group of young kibbutzniks recorded conversations with soldiers just back from the battlefields. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli Army seized the tapes and heavily censored them, erasing as much as 70% of the original content. The film offers these tapes in their unedited form, to be heard for the first time.
Loushy dumps this information up front, then proceeds to provide little by way of context aside from the recordings themselves. She invites living participants to come and bear witness to the recordings by sitting in separate, individual spaces. Thus, when Amos Oz walks into a darkened, mostly desolate room, a large, professional tape recorder sits before him. As he takes a seat, a hand reaches out from the opposite side of the frame, hits play, and tells him he will “listen to his own voice in a recording at Kibbutz Geva 10 days after the war.” Instead of focusing on the subjects while they listen or allowing them the space to provide feedback, the film overlays the recordings with archival footage taken during the war, interspersed with cutaways to the current figures listening contemplatively in their dramatically, sparsely lit spaces.
Director Mor Loushy creates an alternative historiography that’s more meant to be felt than learned.
These aesthetic choices make for engaging, but only sporadically effective viewing, primarily because the on-screen footage often seems at odds with the recordings and not as clearly deliberate or meaningful in their construction. Because of this, the unceasing audio recordings, which jump around from person to person without much by way of demarcating who’s speaking when and in what context, play out purely as a stream of insights and vantage points which Loushy refuses to dramatize or situate in a manner that would build a coherent narrative. These choices produce a disorienting effect, especially as specific locations, like the Suez Canal or the Sinai Peninsula, are referenced without the supplement of any kind of chronological chain of events or geography lesson.
There’s a benefit to this approach. By negating more conventional, facts-first priorities, Loushy creates an alternative historiography that’s more meant to be felt than learned. However, Louchy’s one-dimensional approach, with the film often feeling like it’s on repeat, numbs engagement. Perhaps that’s the intent: to numb a viewer’s response to evidence of brutal war crimes. In doing so, Censored Voices becomes a wholly conceptual, rather than affective, experience, which is no better exemplified than in the film’s final moments, which allow the subjects a brief space for feedback, but instead of recording their reactions on camera, Loushy plays them in voiceover, with each man’s expressionless face and motionless body in medium shot.