| art & architecture | books & cds | dance
| destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
In Kedma, prolific Israeli director Amos Gitai attempts to shed some light on
the unending Middle East conflict by focusing on the early days of a newly formed Israel.
In a fictionalized account based on real stories, he follows the plight of displaced
Eastern European Jews who arrive to the area via cargo freighter in May 1948, just days
before the state officially was created. In taking this historical tack, Gitai, whose
critically acclaimed works include politically and socially charged documentaries and
feature films about his troubled homeland (Kippur,
Kadosh) does succeed in portraying the chaos into which these
newcomers were thrown.
His audience, too, feels a more subtle chaos. Call it confusion. The
film not only moves slowly, it offers so little background information that only
historians and the extremely politically conscious are likely to understand with any depth
whats going during much of the film. But oddly enough, at the same time, the
films "message" (and the pertinent, unanswerable question it asks about
the righteous owner of the territory), is treated with such a heavy hand, that itd
almost be manipulative if it werent ultimately boring.
The movies title comes from the name of the vessel that
transports these lost souls to Palestine. "Kedma" apparently means "toward
the Orient." The opening scene is beautiful. Gitai is known for his languorous style,
and the initial meandering shots of tense, scared, thoughtful, hardened but still hopeful
Holocaust survivors piled up on the boat as it sails toward an unknown future are
promising. Only a few of them speak, and their words are few, too. Rosa is coming out of
exile from Siberia; Janusz survived the ghetto in Poland. Menahem is a young cantor,
accompanied by his wife Yanka. Theyre among the travelers who embark from
lifeboats onto a craggy beach (the terrain is rugged and desolate throughout) to find
violence from the get-go.
A group of young Jewish defense fighters sent to help fends off some
British soldiers. (Heres where the historical details begin to get difficult for
those unfamiliar with the complex political development of the region.) But
its not long before the immigrants are split into smaller groups (who goes where is
confusing) and theyll be asked to join their protectors in warfare against the
Arabs. The defense fighters quickly offer up semiautomatic firearms and a lesson in
operating them. Always call them "tools," never weapons or guns, the leader
While wandering, one of the groups of immigrants comes across what
looks like a villages worth of angry Palestinians who are fleeing their land, having
been forced out by advancing Jewish forces. Though the irony of the situation is clear,
the sequence isnt terribly illuminating. The Arabs and Jews get into a fight,
shouting and waving, but finally passing each other without physical abuse. Not far away,
combat does break out, and the immigrants are forced to participate. The feisty Menahem is
wounded, and the Jews take a Palestinian farmers donkey to carry him to safety,
prompting the Arab to declare loudly and proudly that hell never give up his land.
The tone of his speech matches that of Janusz, the Pole whos wrecked by the death
and destruction he witnesses so soon in a place where he thought hed be free.
Wailing, he decries fate of the Jews.
But even though these mens prescient declarations do encapsulate
a tragic reality, they (and the rest of the film) make little emotional impact, putting Kedma
in the sad category of another dreary Holocaust film.
- Leslie Katz