'Wall': Film Review | Annecy 2018

Wall Credit Still 1 - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Annecy International Animation Film Festival
A fascinating study of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Writer David Hare ('The Reader') investigates the Israeli West Bank barrier in this animated feature by Cam Christiansen, which competed in Annecy.

In this compelling animated documentary, director Cam Christiansen and playwright-screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) explore the causes and effects of the 700-plus kilometer barrier erected over a decade ago along the West Bank and other areas dividing Israel from Palestine.

Known as the "separation fence" by Israelis and the "racial segregation wall" by Palestinians, the $4 billion structure, which was ostensibly built to curb terrorism and has been largely successful in that regard, is at once symbolic of the current deadlocked state of Middle Eastern affairs and proof of the continuing hardships suffered by the Palestinian people. Yet as much as Wall is a political movie with a clear enough opinion, it's also critical of policies on both sides of the barricade, revealing how the net result has been a lose-lose situation.

Adapted from Hare's own monologue, which he first performed onstage in London in 2009, the film follows the author's circuitous journey through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and other parts of Israel and Palestine as he traces the wall’s obstructive path and interviews those whose lives have been affected by it. Shot both on location and in a studio using MoCap technology, the sequences were then animated by Christiansen and his team, who transformed the footage into high-contrast monochrome compositions that show a constant interplay of shadow and light. Yet if the predominant tones of Wall are black and white, the film itself often sits in a gray area where there is no clear right or wrong — even if it becomes increasingly evident that the Palestinians have definitely received the short end of the stick.

The wall first came to life following a deadly terrorist attack outside a Tel Aviv nightclub in 2001, after which a decision was made to build a "fence" that would keep future assailants out of Israel. Despite much controversy, as well as the fact that the International Court of Justice ruled it illegal and many foreign governments condemned it, Israel began construction along the borders of the West Bank, slicing into Palestinian territory and causing a fair amount of damage and displacement. People interviewed by Hare describe the the wall as a "land grab" and "an acknowledgment of failure," and cite the fact that it "creates violence it was meant to prevent": Although terrorist attacks in Israel have dropped significantly over the past decade, Palestinian rocket attacks have actually increased dramatically in the last few years.

The film follows Hare as he's driven around both sides of the border by a Palestinian fixer, who seems familiar with the gridlocks that form at each checkpoint and points out how humiliating it is to spend hours waiting for an Israeli soldier to decide, seemingly at random, whether to let you through. (They have "the right to render your life meaningless," he explains.) Later on and in a sort of parallel, Hare describes a torture technique used by Hamas that takes on the form of vicious absurd theatre, while in another scene he marvels at the fact that some Palestinians see Saddam Hussein — an anti-religious man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims — as a hero.

According to Hare — whose monologue can grow somewhat tiresome at points, even if he has lots of interesting things to say — the wall has trapped the land in an unescapable paradox. And while the Palestinians seem to bear the brunt of its weight, the barrier has also come to represent, per the author David Grossman (To the End of the Land), how Israel remains "weak and frail" and, after 60 years, "not yet a home" to its people.

Toward the end of the movie, Hare points out yet another downside to the wall: It makes the landscape look ugly. Christiansen's gritty animation does an excellent job conveying that idea, underlining the brutal way in which the countryside has been sullied by miles and miles of concrete slabs, which he shows popping up to tear the topography apart. The only saving grace, which the filmmakers use to provide a sort of upbeat finale, is the colorful graffiti (including several pieces by Banksy) that has appeared mostly on the Palestinian side of the barrier. During the closing sequence, Christiansen makes those drawings come to life in a powerful display of creative wish fulfillment. It's the triumph of art over an otherwise unbearable reality.

Production companies: Office National du Film du Canada, National Film Board of Canada
Cast: David Hare
Director: Cam Christiansen
Screenwriter: David Hare
Producers: David Christiansen, Bonnie Thompson
Editor: Cam Christiansen
Composer: David Mark Stewart
Venue: Annecy International Animated Film Festival
Sales: National Film Board of Canada

82 minutes