×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rome Film Review: ‘Land of the Little People’

A kick-in-the-gut, unrelenting condemnation of Israeli society seen through the prism of children whose sense of play centers on brutality.

With:
Maor Schweitzer, Ofer Hayun, Lior Rochman, Mishel Pruzansky, Amit Hechter, Ido Kestler, Nimrod Hochenberg. (Hebrew dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3444008/

There are few more damning eviscerations of Israel’s macho culture of war than Yaniv Berman’s “Land of the Little People,” and yet no soldiers are seen fighting. Berman aims deeper, choosing as his target the socialization of children in a battle-focused nation where animalistic alpha male posturing and the ruthless punishment of perceived weakness create a society marked by cold-blooded cruelty. With generous inspiration from “Lord of the Flies,” the film is a relentless and chilling depiction of a group of kids whose sense of play centers on brutality. Sure to be despised by the Israeli establishment, not least because producer Tony Copti (“Ajami”) is Palestinian, “Little People” is likely to create heated debates in festivals.

A quote at the start from Theodor Herzl encapsulates Berman’s argument: “Men live and die for a flag; it is indeed the only thing for which they are willing to die in masses, provided one educates them to it.” The education here is more subtle and insidious than classroom instruction; it’s the kind soaked up from an environment always on the alert for war, habitualized to weaponry and placing little value on lives not “ours.” That’s the context at the start, in a well-tended community of manicured lawns near overgrown fields and an abandoned military camp. The menfolk are called to duty as the intifada (a word never uttered) expands, and their wives are left home to watch news reports while the children, on summer break, are expected to play by themselves.

For a group of four friends, that involves using the abandoned camp as headquarters for their forays in the scrub with a homemade crossbow and arrows. Berman chose his young cast exceptionally well: most are pictures of fair-haired north European perfection without a trace of the Sephardic heritage so often regarded by Israeli society as inferior stock. Chemi (Lior Rochman) is the leader of this little band, with darker long-haired runt Louie (Ido Kestler) the brashest member, joined by quieter Tali (Mishel Pruzansky), the only girl, and younger Yonatan (Amit Hechter). Among their escapades, they set traps in the undergrowth to catch small animals they offer to an imagined protective monster living deep in a disused shaft at the base.

They’re furious one day to discover the camp occupied by two men, Omer (Ofer Hayoun) and Yaron (Maor Schweitzer), deserters from the army waiting for a friend to pick them up and bring them to a safe haven. Louie steals their 9mm Glock, which the kids think nothing of playing with, including casually shooting at a couple on the beach. A furious Yaron finds them and takes the gun back, beginning a war between the youngsters and the deserters that will be characterized by unemotional viciousness and a callous disregard for suffering.

A build-up of small details creates a powerful, kick-in-the-gut indictment of a society so inoculated to war that normal human values no longer count for much: Berman depicts relations between people in the manner of animals jockeying for alpha prominence, and the ill-defined running battle between Louie and his brother Jacky (Nimrod Hochenberg) is precisely like rival bands of wild mammals on the hunt for prey. When Jacky and his gang torment Chemi at a mall eatery, neighboring girls take photos of Chemi’s humiliation, giggling at his weakness.

As for parents, they’re barely seen except when the fathers are called to duty; otherwise, the mothers – two conspicuously pregnant – sit at home watching the news, not noticing or not caring that their kids are heading out of the house carrying lethal crossbows. Is it an exaggeration? Of course, but the steady stream of macho posturing heard on the news is very real, and that nonstop rhetoric about the need for strength, combined with the dehumanization of the other, the enemy, is imbibed from the womb. Berman ends with an excruciating scene of violence immediately followed by one of unnerving indifference, offering no escape from the cycle of violence.

A little more information about the deserters would have been welcome, though in the end their story isn’t so difficult to follow. Theirs are the less subtle roles, designed to offset the preternatural calm of the kids, played to frightening perfection by the young actors. Rami Katzav’s handheld camera is in a constant state of unease, alive with tension in the way it just perceptibly moves about. Only the music overwrought, unnecessarily underlining emotional states already apparent on screen.

Rome Film Review: 'Land of the Little People'

Reviewed at the Rome Film Festival, Oct. 16, 2016. (Also in Shanghai Film Festival.) Running time: 83 MIN. (Original title: “Medinat Hagamadim”)

Production: (Israel – Palestine) A Fresco Films presentation of a Fresco Films, Royal Rat Prod. production. (International sales: Pluto Films, Berlin.) Producer: Tony Copti. Executive producers: Sergei Bezrukoff, Josh Yablon.

Crew: Director, writter: Yaniv Berman. Camera (color, widescreen): Rami Katzav. Editors: Oz Guttman, Ziv Karshen.

With: Maor Schweitzer, Ofer Hayun, Lior Rochman, Mishel Pruzansky, Amit Hechter, Ido Kestler, Nimrod Hochenberg. (Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • The Favourite Black Panther

    Audience for Best Picture Nominees Most Diverse in Years, Report Shows

    Theatergoers for Academy Awards best picture-nominated films have become younger and more diverse over the past four years, a report released exclusively to Variety showed. Movio, which specializes in cinema marketing data analytics, said the changes in demographic shifts correspond to the best picture lineup becoming more diverse since the 2015 Oscars, when the #OscarsSoWhite [...]

  • Emma Thompson

    Emma Thompson Exits Skydance Animation Movie 'Luck' Over John Lasseter Hire

    Emma Thompson has dropped out of the voice cast of Skydance Animation’s upcoming film “Luck,” a spokesperson for the actress told Variety. The beloved British star did some recording for the project, but dropped out in January, following John Lasseter’s hire to the top animation job at David Ellison’s studio, an insider close to the [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Lakeith Stanfield

    Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield in Talks to Star in Film About Black Panther Party Leader

    Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are in negotiations to star in the historical drama “Jesus Was My Homeboy” about Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. The project is set up at Warner Bros. with “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler producing along with Charles King through his Marco production company. Executive producers are Sev Ohanian, Zinzi [...]

  • Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue

    Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue Biopic 'The Dirt'

    Netflix has dropped the first trailer for its Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” — based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling history of the legendarily bad-behaved ‘80s metal icons — and it looks like the film pulls no punches in terms of the band’s famously sordid history. In this two-minute trailer, we get glimpses of singer Vince [...]

  • ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the

    MyFrenchFilmFestival Prizes ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the Right Shape’

    Actress-director Noémie Lvovsky’s “Tomorrow And Thereafter,” a heartfelt homage to the director’s own mother, and Fabien Gorgeart’s “Diane Has the Right Shape,” about one woman’s surrogate motherhood, both won big at the 2019 UniFrance MyFrenchFilmFestival which skewed female in its winners and viewership, making particularly notable inroads into South East Asia and Latin America. Opening [...]

  • Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA For

    Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA for Awarding Prizes to 'Roma'

    Tim Richards, the founder and chief executive of Vue International, one of the largest cinema chains in Europe, has slammed the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for awarding prizes to Netflix’s “Roma.” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white film, which is also up for several Oscars, won four BAFTAs at the awards ceremony in London on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content