'In the Land of Pomegranates': Film Review

Courtesy of First Run Features
Doesn't bear much fruit.
1/5/2018

Hava Kohav Beller's documentary examines the conflict in the Middle East through the prism of young Israelis and Palestinians living together at a retreat in which they exchange views.

An exchange late in Hava Kohav Beller's documentary illustrates that the ideological gap between Israelis and Palestinians is not going to go away anytime soon. It occurs between two groups of young people from the opposite sides who have traveled to Germany for an annual retreat dubbed "Vacation From War." The idea is that they will live under the same roof and engage in a series of encounters in which they will try to understand the others' perspective. At one point, one of the young Palestinians compares their suffering to what the Jews went through during the Holocaust. Not surprisingly, the reference doesn't go over very well with the Israelis. Especially when the Palestinian says that Hitler was humane because his victims at least suffered a "quick death." Unfortunately, that's too often the level of discourse on display in In the Land of Pomegranates.

The 85-year-old Beller, born in Germany and raised in Israel, takes a long time to complete her films, which include 1992's Oscar-nominated The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945 and 2002's The Burning Wall, about life in East Germany from 1949 until the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Her deep-rooted empathy and compassion is plainly evident in her latest effort, but it's not enough to compensate for the tedium engendered by the meandering debates whose impact ultimately adds up to very little. The travelogue-like scenes depicting the group visiting various tourist sites in Germany prove equally tiresome.

Somewhat more interesting are the profiles of various individuals living in Israel and the Occupied Territories that are interwoven through the proceedings. The subjects include a mother and her four young children who live in the literal shadow of the wall looming over Gaza; a Palestinian attempting to forge a new life after being imprisoned; and a middle-aged Israeli struggling with post-traumatic stress after surviving a suicide bombing on a bus. Ironically, his former occupation was as a cameraman who specialized in filming terrorist attacks.

The most emotionally involving segments concern a Palestinian woman whose young son is afflicted with a serious heart condition. The little boy undergoes lifesaving surgery at the hands of an Israeli doctor, who comments that he looks upon his patients as simply representing humanity, not different ethnicities or religions.

But even that episode, as moving as it is, feels a little too tidy and manipulative, more suitable for a heartwarming segment on a newsmagazine television show than a documentary purporting to be a thoughtful examination of the conflict in the Middle East. Even the film's title — playing with the fact that pomegranates are both a fruit symbolizing rebirth and an Israeli slang for hand grenades — seems too calculated for effect.

There's no denying the seriousness of purpose on display throughout In the Land of Pomegranates, nor the thoughtfulness of its director/screenwriter, who has clearly immersed herself in the region's seemingly intractable conflicts. But that doesn't make the plodding documentary any easier to sit through.

Distributor: First Run Features
Director-screenwriter-producer: Hava Kohav Beller
Directors of photography: Colin Rosin, Christoph Lerch
Editor: Jonathan
Oppenheim

125 minutes

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