×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

To Die in Jerusalem

Emotional, detailed but ultimately every bit as infuriating as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "To Die in Jerusalem" clearly makes its point about the endless cycle of death and anger but, finally, achieves nothing.

Emotional, detailed but ultimately every bit as infuriating as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “To Die in Jerusalem” clearly makes its point about the endless cycle of death and anger but, finally, achieves nothing. At times, in fact, it feels as if a grieving mother is being manipulated to serve the film’s ends, seeking a confrontation with the mother of a suicide bomber that killed her teenage daughter. Although those twin stories help put human faces on the tragedy, the words of a family friend linger when he asks the Israeli mom, “What will you gain from this?”

Rachel Levy was just 17 in 2002, when Ayat al-Akhras, a year older, detonated a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket, killing them both as well as a security guard. The young women’s images landed on the cover of Newsweek, providing a powerful symbol of the ongoing struggle’s toll.

Haunted by the event, Avigail Levy labors to arrange a meeting with Ayat’s mother, Um Samir al-Akhras, apparently hoping to gain a measure of closure and inspire her maternal counterpart to denounce her daughter’s murderous actions.

It is, of course, a futile quest, as the Palestinian woman and her husband repeatedly discuss being “victims of occupation,” justifying resistance. Along the way, filmmaker Hilla Medalia chronicles a culture that exalts martyrdom and can rationalize senseless violence against their oppressors, a sentiment echoed from school children to an imprisoned 27-year-old woman whose attempt at a suicide blast went awry.

These moments add texture to the situation’s intractable underpinnings, but Medalia keeps returning to Avigail’s dubious crusade, which drags on — through various fits and starts — over four years. Not surprisingly, when the encounter finally occurs, it is almost totally anticlimactic, and one can only wonder to what extent the filmmakers inspired her to continue pursuing an exchange that will so transparently fail to deliver any satisfaction.

HBO has frequently exercised admirable restraint in dealing with painful and compelling subject matter, but the nagging sense here is that after spending so long following Avigail on her journey, the producers were duty-bound to see it through until the end.

Given the platitudes that regularly surround discussion of the Middle East, there’s always room for projects that view the turmoil with perspective, exposing the deep-seated hatreds and lack of trust that have consistently thwarted peace efforts.

Ultimately, though, “To Die in Jerusalem” merely rehashes that dynamic through the prism of two simple women who — given the film’s outcome — would have been better off left to grieve in private.

To Die in Jerusalem

HBO, Thurs. Nov. 1, 9 p.m.

Production: Produced by HBO Documentary Films and Priddy Brothers. Executive producers, Sheila Nevins, John Priddy, Ed Priddy; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; producer-director-writer, Hilla Medalia;

Crew: Camera, Ran Shetreet, Ramez Kazmouz; editors, Geof Bartz, Shlomi Shalom; music, Issar Shulman. Running time: 75 MIN.

More TV

  • Topher Grace'Breakthrough' film premiere, Arrivals, Regency

    Listen: Topher Grace on How 'Saturday Night Live' May Be TV's Most Important Show

    Topher Grace believes we may take “Saturday Night Live” for granted. After nearly 45 years, the late-night sketch series has become such an institution that it’s easy to forget the program’s unique place in TV history. “There’s something special about ‘SNL’ and how it’s been in the same place the whole time,” Grace told Variety‘s [...]

  • Game of Thrones finale

    Six Things We Learned From 'Game of Thrones: The Last Watch' Documentary

    HBO gave fans a long parting look at the making of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday night in a two-hour documentary that focused on the Herculean efforts by the small army craft and technical experts who worked on the mammoth fantasy drama. “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” introduced viewers to the leaders of the [...]

  • 'Killing Eve' Season 2 Failed Where

    'Killing Eve' Season 2 Stumbled Where 'Barry' Soared (Column)

    SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the entire second seasons of “Killing Eve” and “Barry.”  I was dead certain that “Killing Eve” and “Barry” — two of my favorite television debuts of 2018 — should have ended after a single season. Both coincidentally starring unstable assassins, the shows were smart, propulsive, and extremely weird [...]

  • A.P. BIO -- "Melvin" Episode 208

    'AP Bio' Canceled After Two Seasons at NBC

    “AP Bio” has been canceled at NBC. Series creator Mike O’Brien shared the news with fans on Twitter, writing that “This has been my favorite project of my life.” In the single-camera comedy, Glenn Howerton portrayed a disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who lost out on his dream job and was forced to return to Toledo, [...]

  • James Holzhauer $2 million

    'Jeopardy!' Champion James Holzhauer Hits $2 Million Winnings Milestone

    This current “Jeopardy!” player has just won over $2 million on the popular game show. Who is James Holzhauer? The 34 year old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has hit a “Jeopardy!” milestone by becoming only the second person in the show’s history to win over $2 million in regular season play. Holzhauer won [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content