The 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip makes for gripping viewing in the docu “5 Days,” Israeli helmer Yoav Shamir’s confident sophomore feature. Nimbly assembled from footage shot by eight one-man crews during the operation, pic endeavors to do justice to views of the settlers and military personnel alike. Although made with due seriousness, helmer foregrounds moments of black comedy and absurdity. Explanatory voiceover and jaunty animation make pic feel more like a TV docu than Shamir’s austere, well-received “Checkpoint,” but it should still interest fest programmers, niche distribs and pubcasters for many months to come.
Quickly executed, “5 Days” was finished less than six months after the events it documents, which unfolded in Gush Katif, where the remaining 8,000 Jewish settlers were either voluntarily or forcibly evacuated between Aug. 14 and 18. Pic might have ended up playing like a rehash of yesterday’s headlines, but impressively intimate access to subjects turns this into proper drama that captures the essence of the conflict over resettlement — for liberal viewers, at least. Hard-liners may feel the settlers come off slightly worse here than the Israeli military, who acted the heavies more in “Checkpoint.”
Divided into five parts for each day, pic crosscuts frequently between contemporaneous actions and separate “characters” in the story, each shot by different cameraman effectively acting as a sub-helmer and sound recordist in one. Emphasis on time, counted off by clock at top of screen almost throughout, makes comparisons made between this and TV series “24” not too far-fetched. Footage recorded by news agencies and local TV stations is also seamlessly spliced in to fill out the story.
Shamir himself films Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, head of the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) Southern Command and overall supervisor and strategist for the withdrawal, who warns his soldiers: “We carry the heavy burden of democracy on our backs.” By turns wily, gruff and gentle, Harel comes across well whether seen barking orders, comforting a crying settler or dancing with cadets hours before their military academy is evicted. Harel even reaped laughs at projection caught when he’s seen grumbling that he refuses to give in to the settlers’ “guilt trip” over one issue.
Literally and figuratively on the other side of the fence sits Noam Shapira, a fervent Orthodox Jew and leader of the resistance movement. From his home in the village of Shirat Hayam, zealot Shapira rallies the faithful with prayer, preaching passive resistance inspired by Gandhi while adopting the folk-singing style of the U.S. civil rights movement and the color theme lifted from the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” a year before. The scene where a heartbroken and defeated Shapira is finally carted out his door by small cadre of soldiers is undeniably moving, whatever viewers might feel about his politics and religious beliefs.
Assorted other settlers — like Rafi Ben-Basat, who roams the country looking for supporters — and soldiers make up the remaining “cast.” Unlike “Checkpoint,” only scant attention is paid to what’s going on with the Palestinians, who are seen in just a few cutaways at the Khan Yunis settlement watching the news anxiously, like the rest of the world, and occasionally protesting enough to earn warning shots from IDF rifles.
But once again, Shamir shows a very canny eye for telling and bizarre details, such as an officer arguing on the phone with the Jewish mother of a soldier who’s gone AWOL, explaining to her that “this isn’t kindergarten, this is the army;” another who tunes his radio to better hear “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan on the radio; or the sight of Shapira’s young sons quietly sewing yarmulkes as they wait for hell to break loose.
Use of overlapping sound to bridge scenes and a glowering, ominous soundtrack build up tension adroitly in last 45 minutes, as the clash between settlers and soldiers grows more combustible. Cutaways to computer animation by Aharon Shiker mapping out movement of respective sides during the course of the action proves handy for tracking action, although the cuteness of the icons used to signify players borders on the parodic.