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Friday, May 20, 2022

“Aheds Knie” in the movies: A weapon that disassembles itself

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Engine howls, passing house fronts, torrential rain. A woman on a motorcycle, visor down, speeding down a Tel Aviv highway on a confrontation course. She eventually walks into a building, takes a seat, opens her outfit and tears off her stockings, exposing her kneecap. To do this, an actor read a staccato staccato tweet, as if he were firing a verbal salvo from a machine gun: The knee deserves a bullet to condemn whoever leads it to immobility for the rest of its life.

It turns out that the woman attends a movie audition and stars in a scene dealing with political events from 2017 and 2018. At the time, 16-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi circulated a video of her beating an Israeli soldier. in the face on the sidelines of the riots in the West Bank, for which she was arrested and sentenced. Right-wing Israeli religious politician Bezalel Smotrich later wrote on Twitter that she deserved a bullet, “at least in the kneecap.”

This is the starting point of the film project of director X. (Avshalom Pollak). There are chants at the casting, a shower of handshakes raining down on the kneecap, and finally X. picks up a hammer “to break the knee.” The rebellious energy of the activist has X.’ steeped in art. But also the aggressiveness of politicians like Smotrich.

Director X. is a kind of alter ego of Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, who called his new film “Ahed’s Knee.” It’s no longer about the knee, the casting, and the film-within-the-film project, but instead we dive into the daily life of the filmmaker, who, like Lapid himself, is extremely critical of his country. In his latest film “Synonymes,” for which he won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2019, Lapid followed a young Israeli who emigrated to Paris to lose his hated mother tongue. Now Lapid returns to his homeland to sue her in his own land. He won the jury prize at Cannes last year for “Aheds Knie.”

Director X. soon travels to a small town in the Arava desert to present one of his first films. Here he meets Yahalom (Nur Fibak), who works at the Ministry of Culture. She hands him a form to mark for the ministry what he will talk about. There are only harmless themes to choose from. But what, asks X., if he wants to talk about the “loss of the soul of this country and its brutalization”? Can he mark that too?

The State of Israel, says Nadav Lapid’s alter ego, despises its artists

For X., the list is an expression of censorship and guardianship: artists with “different opinions” are hindered or denied funding. This is probably the cultural policy of Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sports, who will be active until 2020, against which there have been violent protests in Israel. That is why X. wants to record the woman from the Ministry and make her confess that the Ministry of Art despises art and has declared war on all artists. But in the end it is he who shouts all his hatred for his country towards the desert.

In his anonymity, X. represents Lapid and other left-wing Israeli artists. He is less of a character than a condensation of cinematic energy and political anger that makes the film supremely uncomfortable. Not only in relation to its content, but above all in relation to its form. In the foreground you can see a back, the background is blurred. What little sharpness remains is “squeezed out”, as if Lapid wanted to show that you can hardly make a political film in Israel without having to squeeze every shot of the state.

There is also a tenacious and tormenting erotic tension between the artist and the minister, a constant approach in which their lips get closer without ever touching. That is logical: the kiss would be the definitive fusion between artist and state, which should not happen. Also, there should be enough space between the lips to speak, shout, accuse. If they kissed, it would be X.’ The mouth sewn shut, the protest dead, and yet the artist and the state remain unbearably close, close enough to kiss.

This tension runs through the entire film. The quasi-elastic, nervously moving chamber illustrates X.’ The anger and the energy of it, but it also connects the filmmaker with the desert that he walks through, in which he calls and sometimes dances. It places the filmmaker geographically in the same country that he is fighting against and in which X. lands face down, touching the stones with his lips. And then there’s X.’ military past, which he tells Yahalom about in flashbacks, and in which his role remains so ambivalent and open that the boundaries between perpetrator and victim become completely blurred.

X. also wants to escape from the city of Jerusalem, but he has to realize: “Nothing can ever separate you and me!” The intrinsic connection is part of his protest. Therein lies the political intelligence of Lapid’s films: in the evidence of the impossibility of getting rid of what he has been accused of and hated when he is already within oneself. Either a mother tongue, as in “Synonyms”, or a territory, as here. Without this precise and formally ruthless examination of this connection, Lapid’s cinema would be just another political pamphlet, a “position”, a mere statement. Lapid turns the film of him into a self-destructing weapon. And in the end, when everything was already filmed, he even accepted financial support from the Israeli Ministry of Culture.

Ahmed’s knee, Israel, Germany, France 2021 – Direction and script: Nadav Lapid. Camera: Shay Goldman. Cut: Nile Feller. With Avshalom Pollak, Nur Fibak, Yoram Honig. Great movie, 109 minutes. Start of the film: 03/17/2022.

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