Extraordinarily unnerving yet riveting docu features Israeli snipers sipping their morning coffee while telling how it feels to stalk and assassinate “terrorists.” “One Shot” also accompanies them on lethal walkabouts in the Occupied Territories. Even more amazing than the candid comments is the fact that the film was allowed to be made at all. Horrifying, no matter what side one is on, Nurit Kedar’s revelatory docu should stimulate controversy wherever it goes. Ideal for public TV or indie cable, hour-length makes limited theatrical distrib chancy unless pic is double-billed with similarly-themed opus.
Israeli army snipers speak with remarkable openness about their profession. They all recount the joy of the kill and euphoria of success they commonly experienced when first starting out. Even when doubts sneak in, they all relish the peace of being alone with a rifle and a target, the almost religious rituals of sighting, holding their breath and positioning their bodies just so — one even speaks of assassinations as a form of therapy.
Helmer Kedar (“Borders,” “Lebanon Dreams”) interweaves her interviews so that her subjects, shot separately, seem to complete each other’s thoughts and validate each other’s feelings. One man remembers shouting with elation “I killed him! I killed him!” Another recalls boasting of the number of legless Palestinians he created. Many speak of playing God, tracking people in their crosshairs and reveling in their power to pull the trigger or not.
The snipers admit that as they got older the thought of shooting people began to bother them. None of them question the necessity of their job, but they increasingly see its cost. As one man puts it, he knows the people he shot were human beings, but they “were filed under terrorists and terrorists have no name.”
While denying that he is a murderer (he sees himself more like someone involved in a traffic accident where someone got killed), one soldier calmly admits that he will not be going to heaven. Another speaks of laying in ambush, waiting for a target, when a beautiful little girl appears on a nearby terrace; he realizes that, while she is a vision to him, he represents her worst nightmare.
The soldiers construct oddly convoluted codes of ethics that allow them to function. Thus, though one sharpshooter finds it normal that targeted assassinations resemble hunting, another is completely thrown when he finds himself literally following a blood trail.
A rifleman discusses the “game” they play with rock-throwing Palestinian youths who stay behind waist-high walls and barriers, knowing the patrols are under orders to aim for their legs. He speaks at great length of how the massive bullets they use basically cut the legs out from under their victims so they literally fall out of the picture. The unevenness of the combat — rocks vs. large-caliber bullets designed to maim — never even enters the equation.
Interpolated into the blocks of interviews is footage shot by soldiers themselves of their nighttime excursions into the Occupied Territories, playing like the most off-puttingly intrusive episodes of Fox’s “Cops” ever filmed.
For pic’s introduction, Kedar resorts to symbolic imagery of black-masked “grim reapers” with scythes and T-shirts bearing mottoes like “you can run but you can’t hide” or “I’ll be watching you,” but this heavy-handed venture into allegory serves her less effectively than peaceful images of sailboats crossing the horizon at sunset or little boys innocently walking down the road. Once the world is seen through rifle sights, everything is a potential target.