Possibly the most poignant, profound, and artistically viable film you’ll see at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival this year is Georgi Lazarevski’s This Way Up, a portrait of a senior citizens’ home for Palestinians just east of Jerusalem. Outside Our Lady of Pains, the wall of separation approaches, cutting the residents of the home off from the world and posing a challenge to the relatives who wish to visit them. Lazarevski’s genius is assessing a political situation through psychological portraiture: His focus is on the decay of the human body and the fear old people have of reaching life’s dead end, and in the (sometimes forced) separation of the old from the world of the young they used to inhabit, Lazarevski finds a canny correlation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He lovingly observes the humor and sadness that fills the halls of Our Lady of Pains, often returning to an old woman who wishes God’s wrath (among other things) on another for her perpetual singing. “May a disease take you away,” she says, always threatening to strike the other woman, but that she never does suggests that she understands that she gripes for the same reason the other one sings—to bide time until death comes calling. Except for the care they receive from the home’s kind staff and the few visits they get from relatives weary and scared from having to climb the wall of separation, these kindhearted old people live mostly alone—with their memories and regrets, and in the case of one gentleman, his frustration over not being able to give George W. Bush a piece of his mind. Their remove from the world will break your heart, just as one man’s rather child-like understanding of the wall that he sees from his window—gripped by its size and width, he compares it to the Great Wall of China—puts the absurdity of the Israeli occupation into clearer perspective. (Preceding This Way Up is Claire Fowler’s Open Heart, a depressing account of the struggles a Palestinian family faces when trying to jostle their young son through a series of Israeli checkpoints in order to get him to the hospital that will temper the risks of his congenital heart condition.)
This Way Up @ Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.