Tantura Review: Powerful Documentary Explores Israel’s Founding Myths

Despite all the detours, this documentary about the alleged massacre of a Palestinian village in 1948 dissolves into a sobering portrait of collective memory.

For the Israelis, it was the War of Independence. For the Palestinians it was the Nakba – the catastrophe. Israeli documentary filmmaker Alon Schwarz’s “Tantura” begins with audio recordings of the 1948 UN declaration that led to the founding of Israel and the subsequent expulsion of the region’s Arab population. While it aims to contextualize self-perpetuating myths of national glory, it focuses more specifically on the tiny Palestinian fishing village of Tantura, the site of an alleged massacre by the IDF, and an Israeli researcher’s failed attempts to uncover that story 50 – now almost 75 — years later.

Although there are brief moments of confrontation with elderly Israeli subjects – some of them soldiers who were present at the time – the film relies too much on its academic sense to shed light on its story and has a hard time telling itself to fully engage with the current explosive topic for his first hour. In the final stretch of its 85-minute run, however, this approach proves fundamental to both startling revelations and silent, cinematically self-evident questions about how we remember history.

If Tantura is about a person, it’s about Teddy Katz, the researcher whose 1998 master’s thesis led to a national scandal and the end of his academic career (he also claims that one of the multiple strokes he suffered was a direct Consequence of these consequences was ). Early in the film, Schwarz learns – on camera no less – that Katz possesses over 140 hours of taped interviews covering Jewish and Arab subjects related to the event, a revelation that feels like the film is happily discovering its purpose Accident. Much of the later run revolves around these tapes, which were disregarded during Katz’s trial and even denied by the interviewees themselves, but the content is crystal clear. During his own sessions, Schwarz presents the recorded testimonies to people whose voices are heard to see what they remember and how much of it they still believe to be true. These interviews upon interviews speak to the opacity of this story given the many layers of obfuscation and altered confession Katz and the film must wade through to find any semblance of truth.

However, Black’s targets are quickly scattered. His camera rarely lingers on the confrontational nature of asking these questions to former soldiers or presenting judges with Katz’s ribbons. Rather than capturing their cognitive dissonance with cinematic flair, the film instead relies on explanations on the above issues from academic and psychological experts, extrapolating from deep-seated denial we don’t see. Comparisons to Joshua Oppenheimer’s Indonesian massacre documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are easy, both for their similarities and for the specific ways in which Oppenheimer succeeds while Schwartz may not. “Tantura” is conceptually bold as an Israeli film that challenges the country’s founding myths, but it’s aesthetically coy, constantly averting its gaze from its most rigorous investigations when they become emotionally thorny. The resulting editing is haphazard at times, considering how it jumps and jumps between audio clips, archive footage, and actual interviews before resonating with each one; Black juggles dynamite, but only after wetting it.

Although the story of Katz’s expulsion from academia takes up two-thirds of the running time, it’s really only a fragment of the story. Despite this one-sided focus, “Tantura” begins to find itself – slowly and then all of a sudden – when it stops narrowing its scope to the narration of Katz’s past plight and quick scenes of ex-soldiers listening to audio snippets with archival photos. This 1998 pit stop is certainly crucial to understanding the forces at play and how the Israeli state worked to cover up and discredit all mentions of the Tantura killings. But it proves too much of a detour when the film finally goes beyond that and begins to draw a direct line between the present and the 1940s; not only the founding of Israel in 1948, but also the stark similarities between the images of the Nazi Holocaust and the long-buried horrors brought upon the Arabs of the region shortly thereafter.

As much as the film is about facts erased from history, it is also about memories – both individually and collectively. The former might not be fully contemplated, but composer Ophir Leibovitch imbues every memory with a sense of aching seriousness, even if the words and imagery presented don’t quite do justice to his sobering score.

However, when “Tantura” finally descends into its final act, the broader emotional ripple effects of its theme are difficult to avoid. Some concern more recent revelations about the village and what remains of it today. Others take the form of conversations (through words and Schwarz’s use of contrasting contemporary and historical imagery) about remembrance, as the question shifts from what is being remembered to who is allowed to remember (and be remembered) in the first place.

grade B-

Reel Peak Films brings Tantura to theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, December 2nd.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/tantura-review-1234787264/ Tantura Review: Powerful Documentary Explores Israel’s Founding Myths

Lindsay Lowe

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