Drawing heavily from Edward Said’s 1999 memoirs (in both content and title), Makoto Sato’s exploratory Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said creates a profound sense of worldly displacement, true to the nomadic sensibilities of its titular subject. A literary critic, social theorist, and pro-Palestinian activist, Said described his life as a series of constant “departures and arrivals,” which in turn prevented him from ever feeling truly at home. Born in Jerusalem before earning the bulk of his prestigious education in the United States, Said developed a lifelong interest in the issues regarding the state of Israel and the statelessness of Palestine after his extended family was displaced by the Arab-Israeli War. Sato’s documentary, however, doesn’t so much trace the events and accomplishments of Said’s life as it explores the locations through which he experienced his intellectual and emotional connections with the world. From his place of birth to his final resting ground, the camera creates an intense feeling of spiritual connection while never feeling quite at home in the process.
From the opening scene onward, the constantly traveling filmmakers are repeatedly forced to sneak through military checkpoints and to “film casually” in order to effectively explore these locales, at one point residing with a family of displaced Palestinians in a Syrian refugee camp for several days before safely moving onward. In this way, Out of Place takes on a life of its own as a work of cinematic infiltration, the filmmakers moving about these social and cultural quagmires in much the same way as their deceased subject, as if following the footsteps of a ghost whose residual presence still lingers. This nomadic approach ultimately shifts the focus off of Said’s life and more specifically onto the state of affairs in the Middle East, incidentally contrasting Said’s own sense of personal statelessness with the feelings of familial and historical disconnection that largely define life in Israel.
The multitude of interviewed subjects (ranging from Said’s immediate family to random locals who fondly recall his presence in decades past) further wax this intimately sculpted view of the world. On the downside, their participation—paired with the inherently wandering approach employed by the filmmakers—often renders the work as a whole a somewhat meandering and incomplete affair, in many cases raising more questions than the filmmakers are prepared—or able—to answer. A brief interview with one local suggests that current Palestinian anger toward the Bush administration runs even deeper than that held against the Jewish populace, while a particularly endearing Arab states that he holds no anger whatsoever toward the Jews. These encounters instill a hunger that the film could never wholly satiate—a minor hindrance to the otherwise satisfying immediacy of Out of Place’s scavenger-like approach in cataloguing the outreaching experiences of an extraordinary life.