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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Cannes grapples with the Middle East
Amos Gitai
Israeli Amos Gitai is in Cannes with female cast

While tension and violence continue to take centre stage in the Middle East, the Cannes Film Festival has both an Israeli director and a Palestinian film-maker competing for the Palme D'Or.

But is it possible to produce art from the Middle East that is not dominated by the politics of the region?

Elia Suleiman
Elia Suleiman wrote and directed Divine Intervention
In the Israeli film Kedma - set a week before the state of Israel's creation in 1948 - there is chaos as dispersed groups of immigrants escape into the hills.

Land is central at the outset. For the director, Amos Gitai, his film is an attempt to give the disputed landscape a voice.

"I was trying to look at the landscape, which is not spectacular - it's not the Niagara Falls - it's not the greatest or the biggest," he said.

"Sometimes I am asking myself if the landscape would look at people, what it will say - if it will look at the savagery and the stupidity and the waste and the killing.

"I'm sure that sometimes landscape is fed up of this exercise."

In the Palestinian film Divine Intervention there is a striking image.

'Irony'

A man blows up a balloon with a picture of Yasser Arafat.

The balloon is sent flying through an Israeli checkpoint towards Jerusalem, finally hovering over the Dome of the Rock.

The director, Elia Suleiman, says the symbolism of this allows him to concentrate on the absurdities and related humour.

"The aim primarily was to use the symbol to transgress the border and fly free.

"There's a dimension of irony on my part - I'm not exactly part of the Palestinian Authority's ideological position - but for me the humour remains.

Whimsy

"It is also to break a little bit of that silence and the taboo."

Whimsy and humour are powerful tools for scoring political points, but while politics may not take centre stage, criticism of one's own culture is clearly important to film-makers from this regime.

Manal Khader
Manal Khader stars in Divine Intervention
Mr Gitai said: "If the editor at the time of the Bible would apply this kind of editing technique, the entire text of Isaiah, Jeremiah, will be out in the first edition because these are very wonderful and critical examples of very early texts. It is a critical book - it's not PR."

Obtrusive

So in the context of a conflict, to what extent is it possible to create art that is devoid of politics?

Film critic Derek Malcolm said: "Almost impossible to do that now, although the one or two Israeli film-makers have certainly tried.

"But I don't think the Palestinians would even consider it possible - because they make so few films and it's so difficult to get the money to make the films or to shoot the films there.

" I think they must be politically motivated in order to do so.

"The politics is so obtrusive in the lives of everybody in Israel and in Palestine." In Cannes, the organisers are sensitive to the politics.

One Israeli film in the competition is matched by a Palestinian one - and if one is deemed worthy of a prize, perhaps there will be an obligation to be equal in that respect also.


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