Monday, January 30, 2006
Hidden "Cache:" The Shape of Things to Come?
Playing now in Palestine and Iraq
CACHE Repeat Performace: Now in Your Neighborhood
Sometime in the early 1980's I was watching the film Battle of Algiers in a small movie theatre in Jerusalem. The West Bank and Gaza were relatively peaceful and quiet at that time, and when the movie ended I suggested to my companions that, you know, this could happen here. An uprising a la Algeria. They all thought that I was out of my mind. Since then we've been seeing that movie twice -- in Palestine and Iraq.
I was thinking about the way the "Battle of Algiers" -- which was directed by an Italian communist -- provided us with warnings about our current reality, as I watching over the weekend the French film Cache in a big movie theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. It's directed by Michael Haneke with the magnificent Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in the central roles(above). It's a thriller and so I won't spoil it for you. The two play a middle-aged, successful literary couple that seem (!) to be terrorized by an Algerian man and his son that hold grudges against the husband (for something he did when he was a child). The movie was produced before the recent riots in Paris and some the scenes take place in those ugly apartment buildings where the Arab immigrants/rioters live. Forget about the political message of the film (that the French people need to feel guilty about their colonial past) and pay more attention to the mood the novie sets, that of fear. It's Europe's fear of the Moslem enemy within, of the barbarians who have broken through the "security fence" protecting the peaceful Parisian neighborhood, and threatening the middle class way-of-life and western civilization. It makes us conclude that the Battle of Algiers is now taking place in Paris, Iraq, Gaza (we watch the couple watching television images from these places). And there is not much that we can do to prevent that clash of civilizations that reflects our troubled history from taking place. The only good news that it's all going to be taped and being shown on television.
And if I were watching Cache in Jerusalem I would consider the following: There is something comforting in the non-romantic nationalist vision that Sharon has projected and that Olmert and his political allies want to implement: A compact Israeli state protected by a security fence, a strong military and a few nuclear bombs that has a clear Jewish majority and is continuing to be supported by the United States and the West. In a way, it’s an “isolationist” vision that assumes that Israel could “disengage” itself from the old Middle East and all those crazy Arabs, including the angry but weak Palestinians that will reside in a congested Gaza and in a few Bantustan-like small and dispersed cantons in the West Bank. According to this least bad scenario, the Jewish Commonwealth will live in security – but not in eternal peace – and focus its energy on building a sophisticated economy that could on day become an associate member of the European Union. The problem is that while the United States could in theory disengage from the Middle East and that the Europeans, notwithstanding their large Arab immigrant population have the luxury of a Turkey and the Mediterranean separating them from the Arabs, Israel is an integral part of the Middle East and is located right smack in the center of the Arab World. Even if the Israelis were to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, as they had done in the Gaza Strip, the Jewish state will still have a large minority of close to 25 percent consisting Palestinian-Arab citizens. These Arab citizens make up a majority in the Galilee and areas and who enjoy very high birth rates -- “Ahmed” is now the most popular name for Israeli babies -- and will insist on maintaining their cultural and political autonomy and perhaps even try to attempt to secede from Israel. And will the more than two-million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza just disappear into the Middle Eastern sunset? Against the backdrop of growing economic desperation, political chaos and rising level of crime, the militant Hamas has now gained power, and Israel will be discovering -- like the couple in the movie -- a time bomb ticking and ready to blow up right next to its security fence. Even nuclear bombs wouldn't be able to deter these forces. The deep hatered that is grounded in history, culture, religion is probably very difficult to contain even in this age of globalization and high-tech. In fact, as "Cache" demonstrates this high-tech -- in this case, a DVD player -- is used to re-ignite old conflicts. Like the husband in "Cache," the Israeli-Jews try to live a normal life in which the "Others" can disappear for a while only to return to haunt them again and again. It's a very, very depressing movie and one in which, I fear, we are going to watch for a long time.