Rock The Casbah

Rock The Casbah

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

From the age of 18, almost every Israeli citizen does national service - three years for men, one and a half for women. Recruits often find themselves thrown in at the deep end. Even if they've taken in the basics of their training, coping emotionally is a lot more complicated - especially if they're on the front line in Gaza where the local people don't want them and, by and large, they don't want to be.

We first meet Tomer (Yom Tomarkin) on a bus. It's hard to believe it's not taking him to school, as he and his colleagues bicker and fool around, but before long he's walking down a narrow alley where trouble seems to lurk round every corner. When one of their colleagues is killed in an ambush, the young soldiers are emotionally overwhelmed. Tomer is one of four set to guard the rooftop from which the attack came. Officially all they have to do is sit tight, observe, and avoid getting into trouble - but with tempers running high, that's more challenging than it might sound.

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There's a clarity about this film, both visually and stylistically, that recalls the second half of Full Metal Jacket. The camera moves around slowly in pursuit of the action like a straggling, uncertain member of the group. Up on the roof it always seems a little too bright, too exposed, as the soldiers bat around ideas they can no longer hide from. The family whose home they have invaded hides in the shadows below, making its resentment clear. Only the young boy in the household tries to cross this gulf. The soldiers have guns; he thinks guns are cool. He points his fingers, pretending to shoot them. Tomer likes him, tries to join the game, but it's making his companions uncomfortable. Is there room for friendship when children are described as "short terrorists"?

Contrarily, the smallness of the situation opens up wider perspectives on the conflict in which the soldiers and the family are caught up. As other soldiers pass by and commanders come and go, we realise that the whole occupation is made up of situations like this, with few of those involved really understanding why it's happening. Beside the camp where Tomer goes to sleep at night, a woman waits, wailing, crying out the name of her missing son; won't anybody tell her where he is? The soldiers have no idea how to respond to her but its plain that her distress is getting to them. Every day, Tomer seems to encounter some new pressure. He asks to see the mental health officer but no-one is willing to help him. He knows he's losing his grip, but he has nowhere to turn.

A very personal film that takes on big themes almost incidentally, Rock The Casbah is remarkable for the balance it strikes between Israeli and Arab perspectives, often deriving sly humour from the otherwise tragic culture clash. It's thoughtful in its representation of thoughtlessness, and curiously poetic. Well worth seeking out.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2013
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A young Israeli soldier is killed in a guerilla attack in Gaza, with a profound effect on those left behind.

Director: Yariv Horowitz

Starring: Yon Tumarkin, Yotam Ishay, Roy Nik, Iftach Rave, Khawla Alhaj Debsi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Israel, France

Festivals:

BIFF 2013
Seret 2013

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