Friday, March 03, 2017

Ben-Gurion: An Epilogue and Another Film

He was one of the least dashing-looking world leaders in history, but he became an iconic symbol of grit and fortitude. He delivered Israel’s declaration of independence, but he never wrote his memoirs. However, the discovery of hours of interview footage recorded during his retirement somewhat serves a similar purpose. That previously unseen footage has been rediscovered, restored, and shaped by director-writer-producer Yariv Mozer and editor-producer Yael Perlov into Ben-Gurion: Epilogue (trailer here), the better of two Israeli-themed documentaries opening today at Film Forum.

You do not successfully guide an embattled infant nation through its growing pains by being a shrinking violet. Indeed, we get a full sample of Ben-Gurion’s forceful personality in these interviews conducted by academic Clinton Bailey, a recent immigrant from America, who would later become one of the foremost authorities on and advocates for traditional Bedouin culture.

Throughout their sessions, Ben-Gurion is relaxed, but surprisingly forthcoming and perhaps less hawkish than some viewers will expect. He admits he may have allowed himself to get caught up in the triumphant euphoria following Israel’s underdog victory in the Arab-Israeli War and sounds generally open to the land-for-peace principle. Yet, he remained an ardent Zionist, who was well-schooled in the Judaic prophets’ teachings. He was also a genuinely modest man, who preferred to be called “David” when performing chores around the Sde Boker kibbutz where he lived out his later years.

Mozer supplements Ben-Gurion’s candid reflections with archival media footage, including a mind-blowing interview conducted by Malcolm Muggeridge (you won’t find that kind of intellect in today’s media). With a running time that barely reaches seventy-minutes (by the skin of its teeth), Epilogue is a tightly constructed film that never outstays its welcome. It should definitely also lead to a greater appreciation for its subject amongst general audiences.

Unfortunately, Shimon Dotan’s The Settlers (also opening at Film Forum, but with separate admissions) is not as insightful. Basically, it represents the Israeli left’s opinions on the Settler movement, in all its snide contempt. Problematically, it never addresses one of the prime motivations for Settlers colonizing in the controversial territories—to provide a buffer zone to discourage terrorism from reaching more populated areas. If you really want to understand this movement, check out Dmitriy Khavin’s eye-opening The Territory (DVDs for sale here). Ben-Gurion: Epilogue is recommended for those interested in Israeli history, but The Settlers is not when both open today (3/3) in New York, at Film Forum.