DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
VIA DOLOROSA (director for stage: Stephen Daldry; director for film: John Bailey; screenwriter: David Hare; cinematographer: John Bailey; editor: Raúl Dávalos; music: Christopher Klatman; cast: David Hare; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Iris Merlis; Image Entertainment; 2000)

"If you're into eloquent storytelling, you should be moved by this intimate personal take on current Israel and Palestine."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The 50-year-old British playwright David Hare goes on a spellbinding 90 minute rant as an observant outsider on his 1997 trip to the 50-year-old Israel and the occupied territory of Palestine, which as a one-man stage show was directed for the London stage by Stephen Daldry in 1998 and in 1999 opened on Broadway. The movie is directed by John Bailey.

We learn that Hare is not Jewish, but that his wife is. The tourist in Israel tries to get a first-hand heads up on the current Israeli and Palestinian conflict by talking with local politicians, artists, theater people and the ordinary citizens. Don't expect answers to solve the conflict, but what you get is the only thing possible from such a quest that makes sense: Hare's gift for storytelling and to mimic the intense voices from the Jews and Arabs caught in a passionate struggle, where each side has a different view of the final solution. What Hare evokes is a strange vision for the region where everyone reacts according to their faith, that it seems impossible to think of such stuff as being actually factual even if it is.

Hare believes Israel is a cause. He first visits the sophisticated and hedonistic modern western city of Tel Aviv and takes time to ponder Israel's clash between its divide of secular Jews and the religious, its search for a Jewish identity and how the country was founded in 1948 on the influence of European playwright Theodor Herzl and the Zionism movement. In the nearby port city of Jaffa, Hare drinks Merlot and talks with a controversial Jewish theater co-producer Eran Banier, who gave Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet a Middle-East makeover with his Arab co-producer and they found the conflict among Jews and Arabs even darker than did the play's rival families. Hare next spends the Sabbath with an Orthodox Jewish family of transplanted Americans, who are now settlers in Sheri Tikya, located inside the borders of the Palestinian territory. Hare finds things uncomfortable living in a settlement with Bel Air-like suburban houses that are protected by the IDF and the settler's own security force, as he tries to get a feel for their beliefs and why they chose to live in such a dangerous spot. Despite appearing rational, Hare's middle-aged hosts hold extreme irrational views on their settlement and why they refuse to budge from their hardline stance even though the Arabs all around them are filled with hatred against them and wish only to kill them. It's scary to hear the playwright talk about how much the settlers were against the Oslo Accords of 1993 and why they applaud the Jewish settler who killed their Jewish president, Rabin, before he could sign a peace treaty with Arafat.

On Hare's visit to the poverty stricken and ultra-Islamic religious Gaza Strip, he learns of how the corrupt PLO offers little hope of ever negotiating a peace treaty with Israel and witnesses how the standard of living for the Palestinian is radically different from those of the Israelis. Talking with popular Arab politician Sharif, Hare is told that there can be no peace talks until there is political reform in the occupied territory. In Ramallah, the largest Arab city on the West Bank, the women wear dresses and the atmosphere is less oppressive than in Gaza, and from theater people Hare listens to several amusing parables why the Jews and Arabs are in such a bind.

In the last leg of his journey, Hare visits Jerusalem and is dismayed at how little influence Christianity has on the city. His tour of Jerusalem ends with a visit to the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem, as the playwright is angered by the exhibit of the Nazi Heinrich Himmler's statement that we had the moral right to exterminate the Jews and is deeply  taken aback by the routine documentation on display of the victims of the camps.

In the epilogue, Hare returns home and blends together memories of his visit with the London landscape by contrasting the passion and vitality for their cause by both Israelis and Palestinians with the more "comatose familiarity" of Great Britain.

If you're into eloquent storytelling, you should be moved by this intimate personal take on current Israel and Palestine. Hare offers about as much clarity on the conflict as possible for an outsider.

The title refers to Christ's last walk to Cavalry, now a street in Jerusalem lined with tourist shops.

REVIEWED ON 7/13/2012       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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