Finding an exhilarating equilibrium — or perhaps disequilibrium — between the personal and the political, Amos Gitai’s English-language “Disengagement,” about the eviction of Israeli settlers from Gaza, looks to be the helmer’s strongest entry since “Kippur.” Featuring a virtuoso, disquietingly fey performance by Juliette Binoche and a compelling straight-arrow turn by Israeli heartthrob (and Gitai regular) Liron Levo, magisterial pic shifts foreground and background as it focuses on both mass displacement and its impact on a family. Displaying none of the rough edges or lumpen agitprop that often shake up Gitai’s narratives, pic joyously disturbs on all levels. Distribs should take notice.
In a narrow train corridor, a French-Israeli man who isn’t really French and a Dutch-Palestinian woman who isn’t really Dutch share a passionate kiss and more, in an out-of-context promise of Middle Eastern detente. The man is Uli (Levo), and he is traveling to France, where his adoptive father has just died.
A hefty part of the pic takes place in that father’s rundown, emptied-out digs in Avignon, where daughter Ana (Juliette Binoche) has spent the past couple weeks. Ana welcomes her long-lost brother with something close to desperation, her affection bordering on the febrile while flirting with the sexual. The link between the siblings is palpable, Ana bringing out the more tender, imaginative side of her Israeli policeman brother, Uli evoking the thoughtfulness and decisiveness hidden beneath his sister’s passivity.
Ana has decided to end her loveless marriage, and a visit to her father’s longtime friend and lawyer (Jeanne Moreau, in a nicely authoritative cameo) reveals the daughter she abandoned at birth is now living in an Israeli settlement in Gaza. Ana insists on traveling there with Uli, who must return in time to evict the settlers.
Though superficially similar to “Free Zone” (with its ethnically conflicted heroine experiencing culture shock on her voyage through Israel), “Disengagement” is only momentarily a road movie. Denied the ability to travel with Uli by a paranoid colleague, and stopped at checkpoints along the way, Ana winds up wandering the desert with a troupe of fanatical settlers, fervent in their belief that their God will not let them be uprooted.
Gitai’s extraordinary choreography of the reunion of Ana and daughter Dana (Dana Ivgy) in the midst of the forcible eviction of the settlers is nothing short of brilliant. The confusion, grief and disbelief of the settlers, and the compassion, impatience and anger of the police swirl around the family drama in endlessly evolving patterns for the pic’s amazing last act.
Tech credits are superlative, maintaining a dynamic balance between interior emotion and exterior decor.