Review: ‘Faces’

Painfully naive and seemingly rather satisfied about it, "Faces" follows a group of street artists around Israel's Wall of Separation.

Painfully naive and seemingly rather satisfied about it, “Faces” follows a group of street artists around Israel’s Wall of Separation, pasting up enormous photographs of smiling Israelis and Palestinians in areas where there never seems to be much to smile about. Throbbing like a bass line and armed with all the self-reflection of a musicvideo, “Faces” is politics for the hip-and-clueless and will probably appeal only to those who can still ask the Rodney King-sized question: Why can’t we all just get along?

The question, of course, like this docu, ignores not only the nuances but even the billboard-sized issues surrounding a Mideast peace. Only outside agitators — art agitators, in this case — would approach a divided city like Hebron with a clear intent to provoke, and then look affronted when someone challenges their efforts.

The film’s mastermind, Gmax, using photos by street artist JR (shot with a 28mm lens, not far from the noses of his subjects), is out to perpetrate what is essentially an enormous act of graffiti, co-opting huge portions of public space. It’s an audacious act, well-intentioned but still kind of bratty, given the attitude of artistic license/Western privilege he and his crew exhibit.

The photos are amusing, no getting around it: A triptych of a grinning priest, imam and rabbi is the most effective of Gmax’s setups, which juxtapose other cross-border counterparts, such as a Palestinian kid and Israeli kid. When onlookers are asked to determine who’s who, the point is clear that humanity’s differences are largely created by man, not God. The pictures of the three clerics, therefore, raise the stakes of the argument.

But “Faces” might have been a much better film if someone outside the Face 2 Face project had handled the task. Instead, what we get is a film that is busy congratulating itself before either it or its subjects have accomplished anything. To decry this as self-promotion would sound as naive as Gmax and his team gluing their pictures up among besieged people who look on tolerantly, the way one would upon a group of over-indulged children.


Netherlands - France


A Peter van Huystee Film presentation of a Face 2 Face production. Produced by van Huystee, Marc Berrebi. Directed, written by Gmax.


Camera (color, video), Gmax, JR; editor, Cedric Delport; music, Alex Roy, Wona, Wassim; associate producers, Anneloes van Gaalen, Edouard Weil; assistant director, Benjamin Morel. Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterda,. Nov. 28, 2007. Running time: 85 MIN. (French, Dutch, Hebrew, Arab dialogue)


Sheikh Abdul Aziz, Reb Ellyahu, Brother Jack, Marco, JR.
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