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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

In the Land of Pomegranates documentary review: is the Middle East fixable?

In the Land of Pomegranates green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
The state of affairs in the Middle East may actually be thornier than it seems from afar: that is the position this brave, intimate perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to take.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

Since Jared Kushner still hasn’t fixed the Middle East, perhaps we need to look elsewhere. Like right in the midst of the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Oscar-nominated documentarian Hava Kohav Beller’s In the Land of Pomegranates takes us inside an extraordinary program called “Vacation from War,” which each year brings groups of young Israelis and Palestinians together in Germany to discuss their perspectives on the strife they live with, to see if there’s any common ground to be found. And it’s difficult, in fact, to feel that there might be: despite clear efforts to remain calm when hashing out hugely contentious topics, from terrorism to whose side God is on, all the passion and conviction of the participants seems to end up dedicated to clinging to the preconceptions they arrived with.

Indeed, the other stories Beller brings in to sketch out the scope of the discord also only underline how difficult the situation is, with so much unforgivable suffering on both sides — an Israeli man discussing the PTSD that afflicts him after he survived a suicide bombing is particularly affecting. There doesn’t seem to be much room for negotiation or debate on either side, nor leeway for accommodation. But then there is also the Palestinian mother who brings her small son across the difficult-to-traverse border to Tel Aviv for much-needed heart surgery, performed by an Israeli doctor who declares, “No child is my enemy.” It’s only a tiny beacon of hope, though, and it doesn’t feel like enough.

The film is a bit scattershot, jumping around in time and missing some context for those not already intimately familiar with the region and the issues. What is plain, however, is that after generations of Israeli occupation and Palestinian pushback, the entrenched animosity on both sides precludes any easy fix (despite the glib pronouncements of clueless outsiders like the current American president). That’s a fairly radical position for a film like this one to take: that the state of affairs in the Middle East may actually be thornier than it seems from afar.


In the Land of Pomegranates opens at Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles on March 16, for one week only, with Q&As with director Hava Kohav Beller on Friday and Saturday evening.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.


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green light 3.5 stars

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In the Land of Pomegranates (2018) | directed by Hava Kohav Beller
US/Can release: Jan 05 2018

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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