THE VIEWING BOOTH
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
Writer: Ra’Anan Alexandrowicz
Cast: Maia Levy, Ra’Anan Alexandrowicz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/26/21
Opens: August 6, 2021 at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image (MoMi)
Bear with me for these first two paragraphs: In considering the difference between Democrats and Republicans today, we witness a split in the U.S. as wide today as it was in 1861 when some southern states felt that secession was the only way to deal with slavery. I am as diehard Democrat as I ever was, so when I see that people in most majority-Republican red states believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, thinking so far into the stratosphere to believe that millions of ballots voting “Biden” were made of bamboo imported from China, I can but wonder about the sanity of tens of millions of my fellow Americans. But what if a filmmaker, a documentarian, showed me clips of bamboo ballots actually being transported from Beijing to Washington, DC? What would I think? Methinks I would dismiss this as a ridiculous bit of propaganda filmmaking by Republicans. There is probably nothing anyone can show me that would convince me that the election was stolen.
So: once we believe something, what would it take to convince people that we are wrong? When unvaccinated people see videos of Covid victims, formerly diehard anti-Vaxers, finding Jesus and telling all “Get the damn Vax,” would they admit they have been wrong? Some will and have already done so. Some will not under any circumstances.
I don’t know any other way to introduce a review of “The Viewing Booth” than to use these two paragraphs, because they bring home to Americans what some people in the Middle East and elsewhere believe about the occupation of Palestine by Israel. If you’re a Jewish West Bank settler, you are likely to dismiss any criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In fact, just being Jewish or an Evangelical Christian might lead you to reject any evidence, video or otherwise, that Palestinians are being kicked around, often without provocation, by Israeli soldiers. So it is that Ra’Anan Alexandrowicz, a documentary filmmaker who last made “The Law in These Parts,” aka “Shilton Ha Chok,” which questions whether justice can be served so long as Israelis occupy Palestinian territories, selected seven young people. Most are already convinced that the occupation is wrong, therefore not needing to look at videos of Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers oppressing Arabs. Would the videos he shows change anyone’s deep beliefs? He selects only Maia Levy to return a second time, six months later, to examine whether she, a pro-Israel Jewish American with an Israeli mother, could believe what she sees with her own eyes.
He sits Maia in a booth with a computer and shows footage taken by B’Tselem, an organization that believes the occupation must end. How that might happen is above their pay grade, but any solution other than liberation is not an option. B’Tselem, meaning “In the image of,” comes from Genesis 1:27. “And God created humankind in His image.” B’Tselem documents Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, using eyewitness accounts and videos. Maia appears to be in her early twenties.
Before going further with this review, I must warn you. If you are no longer between twenty and twenty-five, you may have a difficult time listening to her multiple uses of “like” and “you know,” which, if I were editing the film would take a few days’ time to edit out. (I will accept that she is in her rights to paint her fingernails purple.) Outside the booth, Ra’anan, the documentarian, has some B’Tselem videos on one computer screen and Maia on the other. As he rolls film, Maia watches the computer in her booth and is asked to comment while she is watching. The principal video shows Israeli soldiers marching into a Palestinian home in the middle of the night. No context is given, whether they think the owners are hiding bombs, guns, or whatever. They may be there simply to harass the Arabs. The soldiers insist that the kids be awakened. One small boy is asked his name. He answers “Muhammed,” which is discovered to be a lie. The parents tell the youngsters not to be scared. It is only when the soldiers leave that one child begins to cry.
Maia’s belief system is challenged. She thinks it’s propaganda. She notes that a kid cried not when the Israelis were in the house, but only after they leave. She then sees another video and, I must say, this one challenged my own belief system. Young men are throwing stones, shouting vulgarities. Maia figures, as I did, that the rock-throwers are Arabs, but they are not. They are Jewish settlers. Her comments lead one to a quote by Virginia Woolf who, during the Spanish Civil War, questioned, “whether when we look at the same photographs, we will feel the same thing.” Maia sees rocks thrown, and Maia and I see Palestinians. They are not. Would I think this is Arab propaganda to convince people that Jewish settlers, rather than Palestinians, would ever throw rocks? What about the shot of an Israeli soldier kicking an Arab boy in a secret recording? I don’t think Maia believes that this is anything but rehearsed anti-Israeli propaganda.
There may be a difference between Maia and me. I am pro-Israel like her. But I know that occupations can be difficult, that soldiers can do things they would not, under normal conditions, do. I understand that Israel is reluctant, to say the least, to agree to Palestinian independence because a sovereign nation would then have the right to invite Iranians, Hezbollah, and what-have-you, to stash weapons of mass destruction right up to the new Palestinian-Israel border. I have been aware that Israeli soldiers, while acting far less violent toward the Arabs than would a wartime Gestapo agent against a Jew or a member of the anti-Nazi resistance, are no angels. I remain pro-Israel despite the damage shown in the videos, and am not so naïve that I would be unreservedly pleased if a Palestinian state arose this year.
So Ra’anan Alexandrowicz gives us some evidence that people, or, anyway, one young woman, cannot quite accept the videos as real. Still, watching the documentary, even at its brief seventy-one minutes, can be troublesome, not only because of our repulsion at the way an occupied people are being treated, but by listening to the often banal comments of Ms. “you know,” “like,” “like,” “you know.” No video would convince me that there is something praiseworthy about a mature woman’s patterns of speech which are so distracting that whatever epiphanies she has might be missed by an audience like me.
Thus: we learn from what we see is that beliefs, strongly held, may be unshakeable despite evidence to the contrary.
In English, Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles
71 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – C
Technical – B
Overall – C+