Yuval Adler - 2013
Adopt Films Region 1 DVD
At this particular time, it would be impossible to watch Bethlehem without thinking about what is happening in Gaza. And while real life and what a movie may reflect as reality are not the same, I would like to think that Bethlehem offers some kind of reminder that there might be some nuances that are overlooked in much of the reportage.
Keeping in mind that this is an Israeli film, what is presented might well be questioned. The basic story is of an Israeli agent, Razi, who has cultivated a friendship with a Palestinian teen, Sanfur. Sanfur's brother is a known militant wanted by Israeli authorities. Razi has an awareness that Sanfur could well become a part of the Palestinian resistance movement in the near future, but uses his trust to track down the brother, Ibrahim, albeit indirectly.
Where the film is of interest is in its depiction of the internecine rivalries among the Palestinians. Ibrahim is secretly funded by Hamas. Even within their association with Hamas, there are smaller "brigades" out to prove themselves as being the most truly radical. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority tries to keep a balance of asserting their role over the demands of Hamas, while keeping the peace with Israel. In one scene that plays out like a crime thriller, Ibrahim meets with the militant leader with close ties to the Palestinian Authority, suddenly pushing him back over a staircase railing, several floors up.
While how the Israeli army performs its role within the West Bank is questioned, there is a greater look at the quandary of Palestinian life. More cruel than the Israelis are the Palestinians who choose public executions for those branded as collaborators. Ibrahim's lieutenant, Badawi, isn't trusted by either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, being of Bedouin descent.
Beyond the political, Bethlehem might be viewed as an examination of how masculinity is defined. Sanfur and his friends are first seen playing with a loaded rifle. In a deadly game of chicken, one of them is to wear an old bullet proof jacket, and be able to take being shot. The ideals of trust and honor are continually shredded by self-serving lies. No one is allowed neutral ground. There are choices to be made, but all are equally bad. Women are in the periphery. It's if life is just one continual pissing contest, where the men are trying to outgun each other literally and figuratively. I would not think it coincidental that the film that takes place in a town of religious significance ends with an act that might remind some of Cain and Abel.