Eye For Film >> Movies >> 5 Days (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: Dylan Matthew
Last year, from the comfort of my living room sofa with mug of tea in hand, I casually flipped on the TV and saw Live on Sky News the unfolding drama of Israeli soldiers dragging hundreds of Jewish settlers in a state of bewilderment and hysteria from the synagogue they were occupying. In the background of the footage I could see a BBC film crew so I flipped over to BBC News 24 and watched their angle. Then onto CNN and so on. It was like playing a live interactive video game - choosing where to view the scene whether it was from outside the building, on the ramp, in the corridor or in the actual hall of the synagogue. The effect of such controllable and immediate access has the effect of distancing you from the issues at stake and provides no context in which to understand what you are seeing.
But one of the film crews that day I didn't have access to was one of the seven co-ordinated by Israeli film maker Yoav Shamir, who recently (and not without some unjustified controversy) attended the UK premiere of 5 Days, his second feature documentary. Revisiting footage of the same scene again, I now had access to context as Shamir's film charts the build up to that particular event (and many others like it), the culmination of five days of 'disengagement' - a polite term for the process of forcibly removing thousands of Jewish settlers from their homes in the Gaza Strip.
It is hard today in light of recent and ongoing events not to bring in advance your own expectations and political bias to an Israeli made film about Israeli issues. It was a smart move then by Shamir and a relief to find a balanced and unbiased point of view. I say smart because I suspect the only way he had such extensive and intimate footage from both sides of the equation was in exchange for not having a personal slant, which ironically might have given the film more of an edge and a genuine reason for controversy.
Despite this, 5 Days is still a heartwrenching look at families' lives torn apart, at the soldiers' doubts over their own actions and the tactics of the settlers and activists in disrupting the removal process. What some viewers might find disquieting and uncomfortable is in recognising that underneath the bizarre entrenched fundamentalist religious beliefs of the settlers (and the notion they shouldn't be there in the first place) is the basic common humanity of the individuals portrayed, including the men and women removing them.
No matter one's viewpoint, one can't help but be moved as soldiers cry and argue over carrying out duties they don't all agree on or believe in. Duties that appear to be carried out with bucketloads of patience and diplomatic tact. It's a hard thing for me to write 'patience and diplomatic tact' in the context of Israeli missiles currently flattening hundreds of civilians in Lebanon, but there it is nonetheless - at street level in the flesh, these are human beings going about their business, however flawed their actions and convictions. These are people wracked with doubts and conflicting emotions like you or I. Children scream in terror and confusion as soldiers drag their parents away yet only moments before they were sharing music, quiet conversation and drinks. I'm sure we would react in the same way if it happened to us.
In one memorable scene, the father of one family about to be dragged from his home tells one of his captors that he has no soul: "You think I don't have a soul?!" he angrily replies.
"No, you have a soul but it's hidden underneath that uniform. Today you are my enemy. Tommorow I will hug you. I love you."
And then he's dragged kicking, screaming and crying from his home. You'd be hard pushed to find fiction writers come up with dialogue or a scene so blandly straightforward and yet so moving and so loaded.
The key figure in this piece, however, is the charismatic and (again it pains me to write this) quite likeable chief of the Israeli Defence Forces Southern command, General Dan Harel. Shamir appears to have had unlimited access to him throughout his duties as co-ordinator of the process. The crew is with him everywhere: in his strategy meetings, as he argues with his less tactful and bumbling subordinates, in news conferences and around his attendance and overseeing of events at the removal sites.
Unexpectedly he comes across as a fairly rational, intelligent, diplomatic and stoic man surrounded by warmongering colleagues whom he has to constantly placate. He does have his own opinion of events but he only reveals it privately to Shamir off camera. Harel's proffessional demeanour does slip in one scene when he attends what appears to be a Jewish elders' meeting. Expecting a confrontation, the situation becomes somewhat farcical and faintly moving as soldiers hug, dance, cry and sing alongside the settlers, all of them struggling to delay the inevitable tug of war, all of them torn inside.
But then again, how many of the people portrayed here amended or toned down their behaviour because a documentary film crew was a few feet away day and night? One can only guess what's been edited out. There are, however, two brief 'blink and you miss them' concessions to this where you get a glimpse of what could have beens. Shamir is in the back of Harel's car after an undocumented exchange between him, his driver and an angry female settler. The driver, perhaps forgetting a camera is rolling behind him, offers to stop the car and go back to "fuck that bitch up the arse". Harel immediately remonstrates with him for his outburst and, appearing embarassed, apologises to camera with a knowing 'can't take him anywhere' glance. It's a trivial moment in a bigger picture but one that gives us a clue that not all is as it seems.
The other moment, perhaps a more significant one, is earlier in the film, and it's the only time a visual reference is made to the Palestinian situation. In the back of an APC, an Israeli gunner asks whether he should fire over the heads of Palestinian demonstrators or shoot them in the legs. He asks it with the indifference and bored complacency of a man who is quite used to shooting people. Again, perhaps because of the camera, he fires over their heads as people scatter in the background. The scene is very brief and the only one in the film that has no context and it feels as if Shamir is saying "I haven't forgotten about the other side of the story but for the time being - this film isn't going there". From what little I've gleaned about Shamir, he is apparently against the occupation of Palestinian Territory but he clearly avoids the issue here.
Whatever one's point of view, the merit of this moving and timely film is summed up in something I overheard, for coincidentally as I write this the artistic director of the film festival Shane Danielsen is giving a radio interview just behind me. He tells the interviewer that a couple of people told him after the screening of 5 Days that the film had not only moved them immeasurably but had altered their perspective of events and given them a fuller understanding of the situation. Herein lies the purpose and power of both 5 Days and good film making in general. 5 Days is a thought-provoking glimpse into a much bigger neverending story and I look forward to seeing more of his work. He certainly won't be short of subject matter to document.Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006