Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The nature of Palestinian border security is carefully captured in Infiltrators, a gripping, involving and intimate documentary offering no comment on its situation, no title cards and no obvious protagonists. The Palestinian Territories are physically segregated from Israel with a seven metre-high wall, and the film details concerted efforts to scale it - a full picture of the nuts and bolts of people smuggling.

The film has been photographed on quickly-shot digital video, from hand-held standard-definition cameras to noisy cameraphone video. Director/DP Khaled Jarrar steals shots here and there, avoiding remaining in one place for any length of time. Carl Svennson's gripping sound design adds hugely to the film, guiding the viewer through the dark video noise and blinding brightness.

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Early on in the film, we rarely see faces. Jarrar's film has an early focus on hands: phones, walkie talkies, smoking cigarettes in boredom, prayer beads, ropes, money, slipping through bars and holes in the wall. Soon, we see people hemmed in like battery hens, flooding through border control turnstiles like human livestock.

The low-tech efforts to scale the wall are inventive in their desperation. It's a complex organisation - watching the authorities on both sides of the wall and stealthily dodging cameras and manpower. Constructing primitive climbing frames out of wood jammed between the wall's steel girders and forming simple ladders made from metal bed frames. We see several shots of Nike trainers, unsuited to climbing.

Trafficking drivers are well-organised, demanding payment - "They pay a fee, a symbolic fee" akin to paying the ferryman to cross the darkness of the Styx. There are obviously opportunists, with many stories of drivers ripping desperate people off and dumping them in the middle of nowhere.

The young scale the wall like monkeys, but some elderly people are not able to manage the climb. We see family members passing microphones under cracks in the walls, sharing family mementos and stories. There are parents and grandparents who haven't hugged their family in years. It's moving material. Other cultural artifacts sold on the black market include ka'ek, chewy and soft Palestinian sesame-seed rope-like bread bracelets - with the entrepreneurs stuffing thousands of pieces through at a time.

For those privileged enough to have passports, the film shows border control - a teeming, angry mass of bodies. It makes me, as a Westerner, value the privilege of freedom of movement in our society. An angry misunderstanding and revocation of a passport leads to a small riot and tear gas crowd-control. It's a jaw-dropping moment - once again the sound mixing plays it out superbly, a maelstrom of wailing, desperation and horror through the blinding opaque gas.

Infiltrators is a desperate look at a system, as porous as the system itself. With enough will, and identification of weak-points, determined people can defeat it. The film avoids overt sentimentality. The people in a ghost town of waiting workers provide their stories - failed attempts, breaking legs, the brutality of the army, and being pinned by dogs. "This is not a life," "We have nothing to lose".

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2013
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This documentary follows the efforts by various Palestinians to cross the 7m high wall that separates the Palestinian Territories from Israel.

Director: Khaled Jarrar

Starring: Khaled Jarrar

Year: 2013

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: Palestine, UAE, Lebanon


EIFF 2013

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