The Infiltrators (EIFF 2013)

Infiltrators poster

The Infiltrators is a Palestinian film about the barrier that separates the West Bank between Israeli and Palestinian territory.

The documentary is without narration and does little to contextualise the attempts of the Palestinians to get over the wall without getting caught by Israeli soldiers.

Were this a Hollywood movie, one can easily imagine a rather different approach than all these separate stories. Instead, we would probably have followed two/three different individuals, introducing them and their motivation to get over the wall, the false starts as they abandon their first attempt, the drama as perhaps they make it over, and the conclusion as they either end up in jail or safely on the other side.

Given the trend for directors to be main characters in their own documentary, one can even imagine said director joining their subject in an attempt to make it over the wall with all the emotion and drama that entails.

Instead there are a huge number of subjects to this piece, none of which could be described as the ‘main character’. The most constant faces are those of the drivers who try and help people to get over the wall by taking them to what they consider to be the easiest crossing point. They do this for what they describe as a ‘nominal’ fee of 50-100 shekels (¬£9-18) which is supposed to cover their costs for petrol.

The motivation for crossing the wall is not always clear, but some of the reasons given are for work, to see family, access to healthcare, or to visit a religious site. One of the strengths of the documentary is the way it highlights the fact the cost of conflict can never simply be measured in terms of lives lost, but rather the impact it has on people’s ability to do what should be simple things like visit a dying parent or find work.

What was also interesting were the emotions of the Palestinians as they tried to cross the wall. Most were like excited school kids who were bunking off class, all giddy and egging one another on. Although things would quickly get serious when the Israeli army could be seen, as one of them stayed on top of the wall as lookout so they could see the fate of those who had already crossed.

Two of the more emotional scenes in the movie saw an elderly mother and her child passing photographs and gripping each others hands through a hole in the wall. The elderly woman repeatedly kissing a picture of her grandchildren she was unable to ever see.

Another scene saw a number of women with permits trying to get through and visit religious sites at the other side of the wall. Despite appearing to have all the correct documentation they are refused, and one rips up her permit and starts shouting in frustration, to the cheers of the other women alongside her. This is followed by a ‘BANG’ and what appears to be tear gas is launched at all those on the border, causing widespread panic in the crowd.

The Infiltrators is exactly was documentary filmmaking should be. That is, showing, rather than telling, the audience the story of ordinary people’s lives. By its nature we do only get to see one side of ‘the wall’. Although perhaps the fact there are no Israelis shown attempting to come across the other way tells its own story.

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