Saturday, April 18, 2009

[SIFF09] Amos Gitai Retrospect: Promised Land (Asian Premiere)


Promised Land is one part of the so-called Borders Trilogy that Amos Gitai has crafted, the other two being Free Zone and Disengagement. In this film, he tackles the issue of women trafficking across borders between Egypt and Israel, in which there seems to be no problems, obstacles or conflict between the peoples of both sides engaged in this illegal trade, which still persists, with various filmmakers around the world taking on the issue head on in their respective geographies, in films such as Lilya 4-ever and Your Name is Justine.

This film can be broken down, I believe, into three parts, and on the whole it's like Gitai taking the audience on a journey to witness first hand the ordeal that the female victims are put through. The shaky cam technique helped in putting oneself there in the first person perspective, though it could be somewhat unsettling, as if the perspective and point of view seem to come from being one of the perpetrators of the trade, being able to partake in, yet only standing by like an eyewitness, but unable to reach out and help the girls.

It's not a documentary, but the effect made it look like one, with conversations up close, and plenty of tight shots choosing to disorientate the viewer, just like how the victims are suffering, as they are moved constantly from place to place in hurried fashions, under the blanket of night, trekking across deserts to their final destination, which at the end of the film, you wonder just exactly where you have ended up in. One scene that'll definitely stir some upsetting emotions, is how the women get herded up and inspected like cattle, having their assets exposed and prodded, chided, stripped of their dignity and clothes, while listening to an auction going around them for the best price from the highest bidder. Before that the girls do look as if they're clueless about their impending ordeal, until it's too late.

The second act dealt with an underground club of sorts, which brings the entire film to the one hour mark. Here the girls are prepared, again in quite undignified terms of being hosed down with water to clean themselves, akin to being a prisoner (well actually yes), and the first step toward their sexual slavery, including making up to beautify themselves for their clientele later. As mentioned, again the audience is put in the spot, standing by to watch but unable to do anything about it. Perhaps yet again we're thrust into the spotlight, because I think the message is clear that should there be no demand, the supply would naturally dry up. I suppose this approach here is like getting people to swear off meat, to varying degrees of success, by having the person witness how meat is being slaughtered and prepared.

Now the third act I believe was pure Gitai genius, though it may irk many to think, that's it? I had very much enjoyed the ending of Free Zone, and this could rival that as being equally powerful. Without giving anything away here, I felt that on one hand the plight of the women were raised, and there doesn't seem to be anything in sight that could rescue them. Then comes that major event that brings us up and about, presenting an opportunity to be grasped and exploited. It isn't impossible of course, given the environment Israel finds itself in from time to time. On the other hand, the Deus Ex Machina approach here may not go down well in being something like a cop out of a finale. But if you dwell on it deeper, it's the honest truth that there's simply no quick and easy solution to have it solved, especially not on film, hence the approach that unless some form of miracle happens, we're not going to see the problem disappear anytime soon.

Promised Land is one long process from beginning to end that hopes to elicit some response from the audience in either raising their awareness of the problem outside of their comfort zones, or for those who are fueling the demand side of things, to perhaps stop and think if they're contributors to a totally inhuman and undignified process. Oh, and fans of Rosamund Pike who might be drawn to the film because of her presence, you're likely to be disappointed as she only as a very limited supporting role in the film.

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