Precious Life at UK Jewish Film Festival

Written for the Spoonfed Blog:

From its sentimental title to its emotional director, Precious Life carries its sensibility on the surface from the start. Given that its about a baby in a war zone, how could it not?

Israeli director Shlomi Eldar -often doubling as cameraman- follows Palestinian parents Raida and Fauzi Abu Mustafa as they take their four month-old son Muhammed back and forth from Gaza to Tel Hashomer Hospital to have him treated for an immunodeficiency disorder. A broadcast on Channel 10, the news station where Shlomi works soon has hundreds of Israeli’s donating money, including one anonymous donor who contributes the entire $55,000 needed to save Muhammed’s life.

Off-camera he explains he has lost a son to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and now sanctifies all life, a point which at first appears to be assumed. But with Shlomi blurring the boundaries of journalism, giving himself, his doubts, his reasoning and his anger over to the film, we are drawn a picture of unchanging human instinct and kindness that pushes against generations of history, politics and religion, the things we are taught are right.

Shlomi’s conversations with Raida in the hospital soon turn to talk of war and when the ever-grateful mother admits that she’d be happy for her son to die a martyr, we see the director’s faith take a sudden hit. But Shlomi’s scene selection is wise. “Don’t blame the director,” he says during the Q&A afterwards, “I included it because it happened. She said it.” And it’s these scenes that have Shlomi accused of creating Israeli propaganda, but he matches them by including Raida’s explanation as she points at the difference between dying for what you believe in, and killing others for what you believe in. Charting his own issues with the perceived Palestinian readiness to die, he also shows us Raida’s ups and downs as she presents them: careful and controlled but regularly overwhelmingly honest. So while she speaks frankly about Jerusalem, territory, and conflict, she defends the human kindness she sees in Israel to the Palestinian community that now question her loyalty. Despite what becomes what Shlomi calls “an ambassador for peace.”

Raida and Fauzi face checkpoints for their son, the staff at the hospital work to save one life while war carries on around them and the donations in response to one family’s plight all point at life as something precious and politics (including religion) as the pragmatic, ideological force that cheapens it.

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