Review: ‘Local Angel’

Udi Aloni's "Local Angel" flirts with obscure religious considerations before the harsh realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bring it down to earth for an alternately fascinating and frustrating hour-plus pensee. Doc combines some of the influence of Chris Marker's recent non-fiction meditations with the more unfortunate tendency of many indie documakers to insert themselves into the subject.

Udi Aloni’s “Local Angel” flirts with obscure religious considerations before the harsh realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bring it down to earth for an alternately fascinating and frustrating hour-plus pensee. Doc combines some of the influence of Chris Marker’s recent non-fiction meditations with the more unfortunate tendency of many indie documakers to insert themselves into the subject. Operating better as an observer than as a diarist, Aloni and his personal angle on this endless war will receive a good reception on the fest circuit and on leading-edge cablers.

One receptive outlet could be PBS’ “P.O.V.” program, for which this work seems tailor-made. Being Gotham-based, the Israeli-born Aloni may have had the “P.O.V.” style in mind when devising his fluid mixture of first-person storytelling and strong political content with a pop culture sensibility that ultimately makes his work uncategorizable.

Early passages intro Aloni as a New York artist whose innovations include giant ad designs that cover the entire sides of skyscrapers, but whose spiritual (though distinctly non-religious) concerns draw him back home to Jerusalem’s controversial Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, site of Jewish and Arab holy places. Such concerns as the meaning of Abraham’s divinely averted sacrifice of his son Isaac seem (and sound here) much too intellectually abstract to compel Aloni to return to Israel.

But once he arrives, he engages interesting dialogues with Palestine Liberation Organization spokeswoman Hanan Ashwari, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and the director’s human rights activist mother Shulamit Aloni (who bonds strongly with Ashwari), even as theological discussions with several scholars will fly over the heads of all but a tiny fraction of viewers.

Pic constructs a complicated montage, intercutting between the discussions and three different sets of musical commentaries: Palestinian rap group DAM, a three-man embodiment of globalized pop culture; singers David Daor and Dikla, shown singing against such symbolic settings as Haram al-Sharif’s Al Aqsa Mosque; and composer-drummer Tamir Muskat, soloing on his drum kit with a burlap sack over his head. Notably, DAM and the Daor-Dikla duo perform in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Elements form a collage, pointing toward Aloni’s ideal of a bi-national Israel, rather than a two-state solution. Though these sentiments are about as far from Ariel Sharon’s rightist Likkud government policy as one can get — and even to the left of Aloni’s progressive mom’s politics — they are delivered with conviction by the director, even if they may strike some as romantic idealism.

As the work of a visual artist, “Local Angel” is not terribly innovative, and the vid version shown in Toronto will require some tweaking before it’s ready for tube airings.

Local Angel

U.S.-Israel

Production

A Local Angel LLC/NogaCommunication Channel presentation (International sales: Local Angel LLC, New York.) Produced by Shimon Azulay, Udi Aloni. Directed, written by Udi Aloni.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Amnon Zalait; editor, Galia Gill Moors; music, Tamir Muskat; sound, Amnon Guzi. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 10, 2002. Running time: 69 MIN.

With

Udi Aloni, Shulamit Aloni, Hanan Ashwari, Yasser Arafat, Amnon Raz Krakotzkin, Moosa Budieri, Haviva Padaya, David Daor, Dikla, T.N., Joker, Su-hell, Tamir Muskat. (Hebrew, Arabic, English dialogue.)

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