Thursday, June 28, 2012

Five Broken Cameras

One can’t help thinking about Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, which dates from the period following the Russian Revolution, when one sees Five Broken Cameras Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's documentary which just ended its run at Film Forum, takes place in the Palestinian Village of Bil’in on the West Bank. The unrelenting and dispiriting nature of the conflict which literally kills hope is the backdrop, but as with its Russian predecessor, it's the esthetic realm and the Palestinian Burnat's obsessive collecting of experience with his cameras (the other director and writer Davidi is Israeli) that’s the real subject. Art and expression create meaning and respite amidst the war of ideologies. “When I film I feel my camera protects me, “ Burnat says at one point (indeed, one of the cameras literally spares him from a bullet). And there is an equanimity in the island of observation the director creates—whether it involves shooting his wife nagging him “enough with the filming already” or his filming of soldiers shooting. The film derives its title from the fact that each of Burnat’s cameras falls victim to the violence, but while they’re on, they’re equal opportunity employers that exude the passion of the Buddha. Bil’in has its own cast of characters including a provocateur named Abeed and Phil, called “the elephant” due to his thick-skinned optimism. The children wear Fox News, Che Guevara and Brazil tee shirts which are a reminder that there is only one degree of separation between the agit-prop we are witnessing, which takes a tragic turn towards the film’s end, and consumerism. Burnat gets his camera after the birth of his youngest child Gibreel and the film is not only a chronicle of war, but of one human being’s development. “I film to heal,” Burnat says, but what is Gibreel thinking as he sees rocks, bullets and tear gas canisters flying?

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