Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Distance to Israel

The location shots in 1960's Exodus are amazing, which is appropriate given it's a story about the importance of location. Otto Preminger's epic film is amazing for its sense of scope particularly considering the sensitive contemporary issues it was dealing with.

The film begins in the aftermath of World War II, focusing on a refugee camp of European Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, prevented by the British from going to Palestine where they hope to settle as a nation under the name of Israel. The film is mostly told from the point of view of an American nurse, Kitty, played by Eva Marie Saint in not one of her best performances.

In On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan got a good performance from her and she was serviceable as icy for Hitchcock in North by Northwest. Performing opposite Ralph Richardson and Paul Newman in this movie, though, she comes off as a bored tour guide.

The movie subtly and blatantly presents arguments for recognising Israel, one of them being the persistent threat of anti-Semitism--not a difficult argument, one would think, after World War II. But Exodus makes an effort to show shades of anti-Semitism aside from the more blatant examples of Nazis and concentration camps, offering hints as to how this form of bigotry finds fertile soil. A British officer played by Peter Lawford brags about how he can always detect a Jew--amusingly he says this to Newman's character, a Jewish militant posing as a British officer--and everyone assumes Richardson's character, the general in charge of the British forces, is Jewish or has a Jewish relative simply because he's sympathetic to the refugees.

Even Kitty has some bias--when she meets a little girl in the refugee camp with blonde hair, she wants to help her, eventually wanting to take her home to America. She admits with some embarrassment she warmed to the girl because she didn't fit with her preconceptions of a Jew.

Paul Newman gives a much better performance than Marie Saint though his role is arguably simpler. He plays Ari Ben Canaan who leads hundreds of refugees, managing to get them on a cargo ship to Palestine. Filmed on an actual ship, the best sequence in the film involves the tension of a hunger strike effected by the refugees in their attempt to force the British to let them leave the bay in Cyprus.

Sal Mineo is good in a supporting role and Marius Goring has a brief appearance as a mysterious, sinister man I think is a Nazi. The last portion of the film becomes a little muddled, focusing on romance between Newman and Marie Saint's characters and on a conflict with British authority and Muslim locals. Many specific details seem like they were avoided in order to give the film an unambiguously pro-Israel stance--it's really not clear why Ari Ben Canaan decides to help Irgun terrorists escape prison after their bombing of the King David Hotel--a real life event in which 91 people were killed. Family relationships established in the film partly explains Ben Canaan's decision but the tone of the film isn't quite up to an issue this thorny. But for all that, it's a film with amazing visuals and Newman gives some emotional nuance to his character who otherwise might have come across as a very simple hero, obviously justified in wanting to secure a homeland. Exodus is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1178

A thought for licorice was red and black.
A task reported lists of corded phones.
A million birds can fit inside the sack.
The canvas only keeps the turkey's bones.
A giant mantis musters gangly gusts.
The air advanced to part the clouds of bees.
A fatted yam with grace profoundly busts.
A cleaner breath's obtained above the trees.
For meaning, shoes concealed the marching time.
A little wonder goes so far away.
A kettle's heat reported walls to climb.
The crowd decides to sleep for lunch to-day.
Lapels were soaked in wine before the show.
From planted papers sycamores'll grow.

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