Few antiwar films register with the disturbing immediacy and visceral terror of “Tears of Gaza,” Vibeke Lokkeberg’s extraordinary docu set amid the 2008-09 Israeli bombing of Gaza. Almost purely observational, “Tears” doesn’t take sides as much as obliterate politics: The wounded parents carrying maimed children are not in uniform, and the bullet holes in the 2-year-olds did not arrive by accident. Fest play will be strong, and while the film will be a tough sell, the controversy could help the film find an audience in limited theatrical and ancillary play.
The cinematography is the most remarkable aspect of “Gaza,” which includes profiles of children left fatherless or orphaned by what had been retaliatory strikes against Hamas bombings of southern Israeli cities. Lokkeberg’s lensers (who include Yosuf Abu Shreah, Saed Al Sabaa and Marie Kristiansen) provide footage in Gaza never shown by Western media: babies being dragged like rag dolls from the rubble of burning apartment buildings; kids with gaping abdominal wounds; blindings, amputations and burns (shown to cover about 50% of one 3-year-old girl’s body) caused by phosphorous bombs, which only burn hotter if doused with water. The inherent cruelty of so much of the action, committed against civilians with very little infrastructure, services or commercial goods, much less equipment to fight fires, comes through loud and clear.
The camera crew, whose ability to shoot in Gaza is a little mysterious considering the Israeli clampdown on press during that particular offensive, seems to be everywhere. The viewer may wonder if the filmmakers had an uncanny ability to know where to shoot, or if there was so much violence that a camera couldn’t miss it. In any event, what’s shown is a revelation, except of course in Gaza.
Lokkeberg interviews some adults, but she focuses on children, such as Amira, who suffered hideous injuries, and whose virtual soliloquy on a Mediterranean beach serves as a mournful coda to a film of symphonic suffering. And Yahya, who speaks of his murdered father with tears in his eyes, wants to grow up to help people, he says. But the viewer wonders how his already evident hatred of Israelis “and those who help them” will grow as he does.
Production values are good overall, but the cinematography is the standout. Pic makes limited but effective use of Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci’s stirring music.