Within Striking Distance

Young Israeli documentarist Robby Elmaliah seems to have discovered a new autonomous state on the border strip between Israel and Gaza. Taking up a few dusty square metres of land, it is home to two bearded, permanently dissatisfied residents who are not going to give it up.

The Isreali town of Sderot, where the imaginary “kingdom” of brothers Hula and Natan lies, has not been really flourishing in the past few years. Due to its closeness to the Palestinian border, it has become a popular target for the home-made rockets of Islamic Jihad fighters after the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Such neighbours are hardly popular; there is no wonder that the city with a population of 20 000 has to deal with a massive exodus of its inhabitants. However, this does not go for Hula and Natan, two brothers and “business partners” running a garage on the neglected periphery of Sderot. The parched plot of illegally occupied land has become their home they are not willing to give up at any price. What makes the two losers stay together rather than a mutual bond (let alone brotherhood) is the fact that they have no one else left. However, that does not thwart their genuine effort to save their shelter from Palestinian air raids, Israeli authorities and primarily real “threats” waiting for them in the world outside their caravan; abandoned wives, broken marriages, alienated children, reproach, frustration and emptiness. What is a Palestinian rocket now and then in comparison with that?
Hula and Natan are sick of struggling with their fate. They only have enough energy to quarrel for cigarettes, food or just for the heck of it. They are completely indifferent about national conflict. Though they are Jewish, their bond to their state is rather lukewarm (“I only want one thing from the state; to bury me with my face up, since I have lived with my face in the mud all my life,” says Hula). They beg for nothing, they ask for nothing; perhaps for everyone to leave them alone. However, their refuge lies on too hot a ground for that. While Israeli authorities keep on threatening them with forced eviction, Palestinian bombs keep falling on their heads from the other side.
Born in Sderot himself, director Elmaliah knows life within striking distance too well. After all, he has dealt with living on the Israeli-Palestinian border already in one of his first student films Red Home (with the title alluding to the Red Alert alarm system). The atmosphere of his latest film is rather ambivalent. Despite the fact that life often disappears in the black tunnel of frustration and hopelessness, and is really messed up in case of the two (anti) heroes, the prevailing mood of the film is not the one of depression and despair. Although the grotesque figures of Hula and Natan rather make one cry than laugh, in the questions of the complex national conflict, the two “social cases” take up a surprisingly human attitude. This can be clearly seen in the scene of the retaliatory bombing of Palestinian positions. While a group of elegant Jewish youngsters accompanies each explosion on the Palestinian territory with enthusiastic whistling and applause, frowning and dirty Hula observes: “How disgusting!” In this way, the film convincingly proves that even if one ends up at the bottom of human society, it does not automatically mean losing one’s sense for basic human values. Paradoxically, it may be the other way round.

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