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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Censored Voices

Censored Voices (2015): Written by Mor Loushy, Daniel Sivan, and Ran Tal, and directed by Mor Loushy.  Starring: Amos Oz.  Running Time: 84 minutes.  Based partially on The Seventh Day, by Avraham Shapira. 

Rating: 3.5/4

            The opening moments of Censored Voices are remarkably effective in setting the tone for the rest of the film.  An old-fashioned tape player is set up in a small, dark, office room.  The thin strips of film are pulled out and tied to the appropriate knobs; a quiet reminder of how much care and patience was once needed to be able to hear voices from the past.  As this is being done, a man appears down the hall, walks into the room, and sits down. 

            This man is the Israeli author Amos Oz, and the tapes being set up are recordings he and fellow writer Avraham Shapira made nearly 50 years ago in the wake of the 6-Day-War of 1967, argued by many to be the genesis of the modern Israeli state.  Then and now, the staggeringly successful Israeli military campaign, which preempted expected attacks by the country’s hostile neighbors and tripled the county’s size almost overnight, has been hailed as a resounding example of effective military leadership, and remains a powerful point of pride and joy for Israeli citizens and indeed for many Jews around the world. 

            And yet, when Amos and Avraham began traveling travelling through several Kibbutzim (small, tight-knit Jewish farming communities with a long history in Israel), they uncovered a much more mixed set of feelings simmering just below the bubbling, positive surface of public euphoria, especially amongst the soldiers who had actually fought the war and were now being lauded as new heroes of the Jewish people (one of them explicitly compares himself and his comrades to the Maccabees).  With a borrowed tape recorder, they recorded a series of long, rambling conversations with the new veterans where, bit by bit, they started to open up and delve into their feelings of uncertainty about the war and what its effects would be on themselves and on the nation they ostensibly fought to save.   

            While most of the recordings are set to various bits of archival footage from the fighting and aftermath (as well as some powerfully-chosen bits of then-live news reporting by an American news crew), at some of the saddest, or most interesting, or most poignant moments, we cut to shots of the soldiers themselves as old men, hearing themselves for the first time in nearly half a century, speaking words they had almost forgotten.  They never speak directly to the camera (and we are notified that none of them are shown in the archival footage used), but they don’t need to.  Their eyes tell the whole story.  There are worlds of lived experience, pain, joy, and regret compacted into their stares into the camera.  In some cases, they are clearly haunted by how presciently their younger selves managed to predict the continuing and increasingly complex obstacles to peace created by the outcome of the war, begging the question; if they fought and died to save Israel from destruction, did they really succeed? 

            A considerable part of the weight this film carries comes from the fact that these more uncertain, or downright pessimistic, parts of the interviews were kept under a tight lid by the Israeli military for nearly 50 years- when the authors first tried to publicize them, nearly three-fourths of them were censored (hence the title), and only about a quarter were allowed to be released; these were used as the basis of Shapira’s book The Seventh Day.  Only now was it possible for director Mor Loushy (who showcases her powerful instinct for juxtaposition-through-editing throughout the film) to gain access to the remaining tapes, and to get Oz to guide her through the timeline of their creation. 

            It is not a movie containing any major historical revelations- even examples of atrocities and massacres committed by Israeli soldiers are nothing new- but it’s straightforward and blunt presentation of the very mixed (and, as a result, very human) feelings of those who did the actual fighting makes it essential viewing for anyone still struggling to understand how the global order took its present shape.  Even without any clear push on the director’s part, the connecting threads between those fateful six days just half a century ago and the problems plaguing the world today are clear as sunlight.  The soldiers admit their discomfort at deliberately turning whole towns into wandering refugees, afraid of what that means for their future and for their own humanity.  An American newscaster, describing the arid environment of a newly-created refugee camp, comments that “the only things being planted here are seeds of revenge.”   

-Noah Franc 

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