Amos Gitai’s Free Zone registers as a war photograph pulled out of a vat of developer fluid minutes too soon. Past and present occupy each other, collaged in a perpetual state of struggle. Why does Rebecca (Natalie Portman), American expat and audience proxy, weep so much? Why does she and taxi driver Hanna Ben Moshe (Hana Laszlo) travel to Jordan? Who is the mysterious “American” they seek? No answers are forthcoming, only hints, which come in the form of filtered-in flashbacks—projector beams of context superimposed onto the movie screen of the present. Addressing conflict by conflicting itself, Free Zone‘s effect is almost avant-garde. Never has Gitai’s camera made so much sense. The director doesn’t record the world so much as he occupies it, capturing nervy explosions of emotion in close proximity and eavesdropping on serene conversations from afar, like a young boy peeking at a naked woman through a peephole. The film’s tour de force is a flashback in which Hanna leaves her post at a building where cows are milked to investigate a loud sound coming from outside; the camera suggests human-like movement, running, pausing, retreating, hesitating, and picking up speed as if it where a scared bystander to the explosion Hanna stumbles upon. Torn between what it wants to reveal and what it wants to withhold, the film’s fractured surface reflects the broken identities of its people and countries. The film is, in spite of its terrorist subtext, something of a comedy. In Jordan, Rebecca and Hanna meet a Palestinian woman, Leila (Hiam Abbass), who leads them to the “American” who resides near her home. Staring out the window at her burning village, she mutters, “It seems like the place is on fire.” It’s a funny but sad thing when violence is greeted with such nonchalance. These and other ideas are conveyed by Gitai through the kaleidoscopic prism of the film, which hinges on a structure as cyclical, absurd, and near-abstract as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- New Yorker Films
- 90 min
- Amos Gitai
- Amos Gitai, Marie Jose Sanselme
- Natalie Portman, Hana Laszlo, Hiam Abbass, Carmen Maura, Makram Khoury, Avi Avni, Uri Klauzner
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