Tuesday, February 5, 2013

We Remember Thee, Zion

Film: Giv’a 24 Eina Ona (Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Some of the films on The List I privately call “unicorns.” What that basically means to me is that if for some reason I didn’t finish the full list, it would be because I couldn’t find this particular rarity. Deseret was one such film, as is The Cool World. Another of this is Giv’a 24 Eina Ona (Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer). I don’t know if this film has ever been released in the United States. It most certainly has never gotten a desperately needed restoration, which is a whole different issue.

This is the first film ever produced in Israel, and as might be expected, it is extremely pro-Zionist. That’s probably to be expected. The new Israeli citizens, facing attack from all sides just after the formation of the new nation all fight for the freedom and survival of the new state. The British, who held the mandate on the area, are depicted quite favorably, as are the Americans to some extent, and the Druze people. The Arabs, as should be expected in a pro-Israel film made less than a decade after the reformation of the nation and after the war in question, are almost faceless, rampaging villains.

The title of the film is a bleak one—the eponymous Hill 24 guards an important pass on the road to Jerusalem. Within the first couple of minutes, we see the end result, the conclusion that the film will then build to: essentially, we see the bodies of our four main characters, each in a posture of death in combat. And, as mentioned, Hill 24 isn’t answering, which certainly doesn’t bode well for anyone else guarding that particular piece of ground.

The bulk of the film isn’t specifically what happens in combat, but how these four disparate people ended up giving their lives for a chunk of high ground that, months before, would have meant nothing to them. We spend some time with each person, going through the individual tales that lead up to each person being there. The first story is that of James Finnegan (Edward Mulhare), an Irish Christian working for the British government during the mandate. He is charged with keeping track of a woman named Miriam Miszrahi (Haya Harareet). Over time, the two fall for each other, and Finnegan resigns his post. When Israel reforms, he returns to the country to be with Miriam. This story concludes about a third of the way through the film.

Second is the inevitable American connection. Allan Goodman (Michael Wager) is a tourist who gets pulled into the battle for Jerusalem. While recovering from being wounded, he is instructed by a rabbi, who kindles his faith. This is another long one, taking us to well past the one-hour mark, leaving only a little time for the final two stories and the conclusion of what happens to our four principals. This one is also pretty filled with combat through the streets of the Old City.

Our third story is that of Esther Hadassi (Margalit Oved), a Yemenite Jew born near the hills of Jerusalem and longing to return to them. By the time we get to her story, we have fewer than 25 minutes left in the film, so she is sadly given short shrift. In fact, this is true of her throughout the film—we learn right away that she speaks only limited English, and so we spend very little time concerned with her—although we do learn that she’s the one who eventually helped patch Allan up after his injury. And really, that’s it for her—a couple of lines and we’re on to the last story.

That story belongs to David Airam (Arik Lavie), a native Israeli fighting for his homeland. He has no particular story of how he came to take part in this fight, but instead relates a story of a patrol where he encounters a former Nazi still bent on doing anything he can to exterminate the Jews. His story, and the couple of sentences of Esther’s, and all of Allan’s are told on the drive out to the hill. When David’s story ends, the four share a toast and hop out of their vehicle to defend the hill. As this puts us five minutes from the end, you don’t have long to wait to learn why the film is called what it is. Anyway, we learned that at the beginning.

The biggest issue here is that this is an incredibly muddy print. I’m eternally grateful to Chip Lary for tracking this one down. It looks like someone’s ancient VHS copy pulled from an Israeli television broadcast and rendered digitally. When a transfer is this problematic, it’s difficult to separate the film from the medium—blackened places on the film, scratches and pops, missing frames, and horribly muddy sound that is all but gibberish in long sequences. I had to constantly remind myself that the condition of the film is hardly the fault of the film.

War films come in two varieties: those that promote the noble sacrifice and valiant struggle of war and those that decry the senseless waste of human life and tragic consequences of the same. Giv’a 24 Eina Ona is unquestionably of the first sort, a film that ennobles its four main characters through death in combat. It would be difficult for a film made at this time, in this place, and on this topic to be anything else.

I would be more than willing to watch Giv’a 24 Eina Ona again, provided I can find a better print. It’s propaganda, but it’s propaganda that is completely understandable, and it’s well made despite its obvious non-existent budget. I wouldn’t, however, be willing to sit through this version of it again. There are too many problems with the physical film for that sort of cinematic masochism.

Why to watch Giv’a 24 Eina Ona: A tale of new beginnings and the fight to make those new beginnings meaningful.
Why not to watch: Of all the films I have seen on this list, it’s the one most in need of a restoration.

12 comments:

  1. It's probably miraculous the film exists at all, just a shame your copy appears to be so poor. I found a clip on Youtube that looks in reasonable condition, and it was actually released on DVD a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't know there was a DVD release--I looked for one for almost three years to no avail, and the librarian I work with was unable to track one down for me (and she managed to track down stuff like Last Chants for a Slow Dance, so I trust her skills).

      Delete
  2. Yeah, this one falls into the "it's better than nothing, but not by much" category in regards to its condition.

    Reading the other comment is the first I've heard of it EVER being in any other medium than taped off TV. (Amazon offers a VHS copy for $80 from a private seller that I suspect might be from the same source as the version I found.) And there are a couple short clips on Youtube, but no full movie.

    As for the film itself, I found myself not really getting caught up in any of the stories. I'm almost positive that this was because I already knew they were going to die so I didn't get emotionally invested in them. The exact same thing happened to me with The Virgin Suicides. They tell you at the beginning that the girls are going to kill themselves so I never connected with them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are times when that strategy works, though. I still get emotionally involved in the story every time I watch Sunset Blvd., for instance, even though we start with William Holden face-down in a swimming pool.

      I would happily give this one another chance with a better version. I kind of liked the first story quite a bit, and found the fourth one interesting. The second one is too "divine providence" for me.

      Delete
    2. I agree on Sunset Blvd. American Beauty is another. In fact, I reviewed both of them on my site early on as part of my "Narrated by Dead People" category of films I would recommend.

      Delete
    3. It's a hard thing to do. It takes a very special script to be able to pull of being narrated by a guy the audience knows is dead.

      Delete
  3. Thanks to you and Chip I finally got to watch this one. I admit I didn’t have particularly high expectations (‘obscure black and white Zionist propaganda film’ doesn’t exactly scream entertainment value to me), but it was surprisingly good, not nearly as dated a feel as one might expect - particularly the first and last of the stories, like you said. Actually, I’d argue that Esther’s story doesn’t count as a fourth narrative, separate from the Allan’s. While the three men represent different reasons to fight for Israel (and are probably meant to appeal to different kinds of audiences), she seems to me to represent Israel itself: she is born in the very hills they are fighting for, prefers Hebrew to English and the choice of actress suggests a Middle Eastern background as opposed to the three men. It is implied that Allan has come to love her, which sort of fits in with his story being about rekindling his Jewish faith and coming to love Israel. Also, she is the one who held on the Israeli flag (which they cover her body with in the end) which makes the UN guy declare Hill 24 part of Israel. 

    Penny

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a hell of a good point about Esther. In fact, her "story" was the biggest disappointment for me, because I'd have really liked a narrative about her. As one of the natives and as the only woman of the four, her perspective would have been really interesting. If, as you say, she represents Israel (and I completely buy that interpretation), shouldn't her story be central?

      Delete
  4. Yes, I was curious about her too. She would also have provided a woman’s perspective (although I guess this is Miriam’s role... odd that Miriam is much more fleshed out than Esther). What I was thinking was that Esther is a symbol in the way the Marianne is a symbol of France (and, come to think of it, usually wrapped in the French flag). So, she’s more of a personification of the nation and it’s values (like Marianne personifies liberty or reason or whatever) than an actual, realistic person? Maybe in a sense she’s too abstract to have a real story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I buy this idea completely. I would have liked to have heard her story, though, if only for an additional reason that these people find such a common bond

      Delete
  5. I liked this movie better than I expected for much the same reasons as you point out. The personal side to the stories is what makes this interesting. My in-laws are trying to locate a decent copy of it and I will let you know if they succeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to see this in a better form than I did. There's definitely something here worth seeing.

      Delete