Credits: Directed by Shlomi Eldar
Details: 90 mins, In Cinemas 7 July 2011, Israel,
Synopsis: With the help of a prominent Israeli journalist, this documentary chronicles the struggle of an Israeli pediatrician and a Palestinian mother to get treatment for her baby, who suffers from an incurable genetic disease. Each must face their most profound biases as they inch towards a possible friendship in an impossible reality.
Moving doco finds common ground in Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Even if one comes to this film with no insight at all into the centuries-old conflict between Palestine and Israel, the very human story of Mohammad Abu Mustafa will be deeply affecting. The key characters ultimately play profoundly symbolic roles in the cry for peace that is Sholmi Eldar’s Precious Life, but first and foremost, they are real people sharing the same terrain – a paediatric ward filled with anxiety, despair and fading hope.
Mohammad is a Palestinian toddler born without an effective immune system. We meet him as he and his family await news of a marrow donor, a procedure that can only be carried out at an Israeli hospital. By his side is his mother, Ra’ida Abu Mustaffa, a constant companion for whom the child’s fight for life is taking an exhaustive toll (her emotional collapse amidst family and friends in a hospital corridor is heartbreaking), but who remains stoic.
Primary care-provider for Mohammad is an Israeli doctor, Raz Somech, whose broad-minded views on the Gaza Strip conflict are challenged by Ra’ida; he is stunned (as a large percentage of Western audiences may be) by her blunt approach to life and death. She wants her baby boy healthy but understands and condones that one day he may die proudly in the name of Palestinian rights. (She later recants some of the more extreme words she uses.) Both the filmmaker (via narration) and Dr. Somech, who was summoned to military-aid duty during the filming and experienced first-hand the horrors of the conflict, are torn by the contradictions and realities of mortality in the region, of how an innocent’s life and a martyr’s death are glorious in equal measure.
Ra’ida develops a friendship with the medico, despite an unshakeable belief in her country’s cause; she fearlessly expresses the depth of her hatred for Israel and its Jewish population. Ultimately, both she and Dr. Somech express a longing for peace and a frustration at the forces that have come to dictate the ongoing conflict.
The vast breadth of the canvas upon which Eldar paints this portrait of life amongst the ruins of two proud nations must have seemed daunting; it certainly does to the viewer at times. But the photo journalist (who, having covered the child’s plight for Israeli television news, corralled doctors from both regions to help) has a firm grasp of when to minimalise the issues and when to place them in a grander socio-political setting.
Ra’ida also comes to represent the repression of women in the region, revealing rather shockingly that she is pregnant only a few weeks after Mohammad’s release from hospital and despite already losing two children to the same disease. (“Women in Gaza don’t have a say in it; the husband makes all the decisions,” she tells Eldar.) Additionally, her shifting opinion of Israelites brings her into conflict with her community, who view her growing understanding of the enemy’s views as almost traitorous.
The outbreak of intense fighting leads to an examination of the methods and consequences of Israeli shelling of Palestine suburbs; a peripheral story of an Israeli doctor living in Palestine, whose life is shattered by his own country’s weapons, adds further poignancy to the plight of the Palestinians.
Yet it is the apolitical struggles of Mohammad that bind all elements of Eldar’s very moving film. The thematic dimensions of its hostile locale are gripping, but the heart of the film belongs to a little boy. It is his struggle, and not those over borders and ideologies, that emerges as the most crucial.
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