Title: Tears of Gaza
Director: Vibeke Løkkeberg
Dated by the criterion of certain cinephiles (it premiered at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival) but still dispiritingly topical, director Vibeke Løkkeberg’s “Tears of Gaza,” a visceral documentary look at the 2008-09 Israeli bombardment of Gaza launched in retaliation for Hamas bombings of southern Israeli cities, is a shattering anti-war that pierces one’s heart. A tough watch even for those who believe they’ve seen it all, this subjective offering is a grim portrait of human atrocity and a cinematic evocation of the old protest song query: “War, what is it good for?”
Løkkeberg and cinematographers Yosuf Abu Shreah, Saed Al Sabaa and Marie Kristiansen — apparently having smuggled in cameras in advance of the Israeli shutdown of press during the brutal offensive, which resulted in more than 1,400 deaths and the destruction of thousands of civilian structures — capture a steady stream of increasingly horrific footage. As missiles rain down on the city, viewers see ash-covered bombing victims being hauled from rubble by neighbors; a one-eyed kitten wandering about; a father weeping madly over the loss of all of his children; one injured baby vomiting on a hospital gurney, another with eye patches crying for his mother.
It’s a prima facie document, an unblinking and decidedly unsettling first draft of history. But “Tears of Gaza” is built around sets of affecting first-person interviews, though — many with children who have lost parents and other non-combatant family members, and recount their stories, teary-eyed. A father sits with his three-year-old daughter, covered over most of her body by burns from phosphorous bombs, and recalls the death of his wife and father — the specific targeting, he says, of an Israeli soldier’s rocket launcher. If it seems improbable, the movie later shows babies in a morgue, shot through the head and chest at short distance.
It’s easy, but also more than a bit soulless, to criticize “Tears of Gaza” for what it is not — a balanced look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the human toll on both sides of a grim, terrible war. The film is by some measure a work of advocacy, no doubt, showing “only” the perspective of Palestinians suffering from supply blockades and this hellish, seemingly indiscriminate mortar shelling. But in the end it doesn’t really matter because it’s so exceedingly effective in the gall and sadness it provokes. Amidst all the graphic horrors “Tears of Gaza” chronicles, there may not be a shot more heartrending than a toddler uncomprehendingly clutching and kissing the framed photograph of a father he won’t remember. Løkkeberg’s film confronts complacency by forcing its audience to watch these and other moments that showcase not only wanton destruction but the too-soon death of innocence.
Written by: Brent Simon