Free Zone (Amos Gitai) 52 – Content-wise, this vision of a hopelessly divided Mid-East is didactic and oversimplified. Through Gitai’s style, it becomes somewhat improved. Starting with a seemingly indulgent 10-minute single shot of star Natalie Portman as she cries and listens to a song that asks bluntly, “How long will this circle of horror last?”, Free Zone turns out to be a surprisingly tense tale of border-crossing, both physical and psychological.
Portman is slightly (intentionally) annoying as an American who imposes upon her female Israeli driver (improbable Cannes prizewinner Hannah Laslow), a woman who must travel to the tax-free zone between Jordan and Saudi Arabia to pick up a cash payment after a bomb injures her husband. The backstories of both women are interesting (especially the scene in which Hannah explains that she and her husband sell armored cars instead of flowers because they found war to be the only certainty in their lives), and the film uses a layering of images to suggest that the characters are haunted by their pasts as they experience the present. It’s a sharp movie that only begins to stumble once the women reach their destination, and meet a third woman, Leila (Hiam Abbass), who is in a predicament as dire as either of theirs. Gitai’s lack of political subtlety gets even worse when Hannah and Leila begin bickering about the payment of the cash. One suspects that he thinks he’s giving us a fair-minded portrayal here, but because Leila’s immediately thrust into the conflict and not given the same stylistic treatment as her backstory is relayed, it feels lopsided. The ending, which admittedly provides a rhyme to the opening shot, is too simple too be taken very seriously.
Rating update: Time to Leave (Le Temps qui reste) (Francois Ozon) 43