Most docus about the Israeli wall constructed to cut off the Palestinian Territories take an emotional approach, yet few are as involving as “Infiltrators.” Visual artist Khaled Jarrar treats his DigiBeta camera like a person being smuggled over the barrier, using tight closeups, jerky movements and, at times, a cautiously observational distance to approximate the feeling of someone attempting the crossing, or watching others going across. The seemingly low-tech results at first appear bothersome, but soon take on an immediacy that captures the disturbing inhumanity inherent in the barrier. Docu sidebars and streaming sites should take notice.
The key to Jarrar’s approach is the way he shows how the wall reduces the Palestinians to the level of animals. Whether bunched up in gated pathways reminiscent of cattle pens, or dashing across highways at night in the manner of leaping deer, the people here are turned into lesser beings by the unnatural wall (which brings to mind Australia’s rabbit-proof fence).
These aren’t clandestine traffickers or terrorists; they’re families separated by restrictive and capricious border policies, or people who work in Israel but live in the West Bank. All are treated as potentially dangerous infiltrators, from young men seeking jobs to older women wishing to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. “Infiltrators” makes clear that it’s not simply the border guards who are to blame for projecting a sense of degradation, but the wall itself, which psychically and physically proclaims a hierarchy of difference.
Jarrar doesn’t shine a positive light on the people smugglers, many of whom charge exorbitant rates to ferry clients across (or under, via tunnels). A few may be heroic resisters, but others are nothing more than shysters; without getting all bleeding-heart-liberal, the docu implies that their behavior, too, is a conditioned response to the artificial separation.
No commentary or voiceovers interfere with the sense of being alongside those seeking to get across, and the deliberately rough-looking lensing (night scenes are especially grainy), combined with careful use of sound, at times resembles an installation video. Saying that, though, might give the mistaken impression that the helmer is over-intellectualizing, whereas images such as boys smuggling bread through a hole, or a man being kicked by an Israeli soldier, speak to the gut as much as the head.
Music only comes at the end, with Massive Attack’s “Angel,” used presumably more for its haunting melodic line than for its lyrics. Much is missed by the sparse subtitles.