You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘In the Land of Pomegranates’

This sometimes uplifting, sometimes depressing documentary looks at a unique effort to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hava Kohav Beller
Ofra Eviatar, Mohammad Joudeh, Shabtai Penso, Nira Penso, Mohammed Al Yazgi, Reham Baker Hamden Al Yazgi, Rabea Arar, Ayana Lekach, Rotem Dar. (Arabic, Hebrew, English dialogue)

2 Hours

Official Site: http://firstrunfeatures.com/landofpomegranates.html

By turns edifying and frustrating, Hava Kohav Beller’s “In the Land of Pomegranates” focuses on an annual gathering in Germany known as Vacation From War, an event designed to make young Israeli and Palestinian attendees view each other as human beings rather than mortal enemies as they reside under the same roof and interact for several days. Unfortunately, by the end of this meandering yet fascinating documentary, viewers are left with the impression that such attempts to bridge gaps and heal wounds, however well-intentioned, will have, at best, extremely limited success.

Indeed, even Mohammad Joudeh, host and on-camera spokesperson for the gathering, appears to harbor few illusions about its efficacy. “Our goal is not to make people love each other,” he says. On the other hand, he adds, “If only five out of the 60 participants from each side experience a change, I would be happy.”

Trouble is, as Beller follows the often heated interplay between the twentysomethings at the 2007 Vacation From War, viewers are forced to consider the possibility that Joudeh won’t remember this particular edition of the program (then in its seventh year) as an especially fulfilling one. Even before the bus transporting the attendees reaches the German town of Walberberg, we hear off-camera voices — presumably those of the passengers; the film often is fuzzy about such details — staking contradictory claims to a divided land that, depending on your point of view, was promised to Jews in the Torah, or illegally seized by Israeli occupiers.

The actual conversations that ensue at the gathering reflect a similar rigidity in outlook — although, ironically, there is a welcome hint at the possibility of détente when that rigidity is bluntly addressed. One young Israeli warns that the seemingly endless cycle of attacks and counterattacks, terrorist acts and brutal reprisals, will continue unabated as long as both sides are unable to develop something like trust. “If we stop,” he says, “we’ll always fear you’ll start. If you stop, you’ll always fear we’ll start. I mean, we are stuck in a hole of crazy paranoia.”

Beller, a German-born and Israeli-reared filmmaker who lives and works in New York, first attracted attention in 1992 with “The Restless Conscience,” her remarkable Oscar-nominated documentary about German resistance to Hitler throughout the nightmare years of the Third Reich. In this film, however, she doesn’t deal in the stark blacks and whites of historical record, but instead strives to be an honest broker while carefully weighing opposing views and charting seemingly insurmountable divides. Almost inevitably, “In the Land of Pomegranates” — the title refers to both a delectable fruit and Israeli slang for hand grenades — is far less satisfying on an emotional level, even as it arguably is more intellectually challenging.

For many viewers, Beller’s film actually will be most compelling during those stretches when she cuts away from the often hostile give-and-take at the Vacation From War conference, and spends quality time with other individuals affected by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are introduced to an indomitable Israeli mother who lives in the shadow of the Gaza wall, and an equally strong-willed Palestinian mom who makes regular border crossings with her son so his heart ailment can be treated by an Israeli doctor.

And then there is Shabtai Penso, also known as Chepsi, a middle-aged Israeli news cameraman left stricken with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving the sort of suicide bombing he once routinely covered as part of his job. That he manages, with the loving help of his wife, Nira, to find a way to salve his psychological wounds is one of the relatively few hopeful signs on view in the landscape of “Pomegranates.”

Film Review: 'In the Land of Pomegranates'

Reviewed online, Houston, Jan. 4, 2017. Running time: 120 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A First Run Features release of a Hava Kohav Theatre Foundation production. Produced by Hava Kohav Beller.

Crew: Director, writer: Hava Kohav Beller. Camera (color): Christoph Lerch, Colin Rosin, Shalom Rufeisen. Editor: Jonathan Oppenheim.

With: Ofra Eviatar, Mohammad Joudeh, Shabtai Penso, Nira Penso, Mohammed Al Yazgi, Reham Baker Hamden Al Yazgi, Rabea Arar, Ayana Lekach, Rotem Dar. (Arabic, Hebrew, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Critics Week

    Cannes: Critics’ Week Unveils Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

  • China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails

    China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails to Open While 'P Storm' Rages On

    Even on one of the quietest weekends of the year, new-release U.S. animated feature “Wonder Park” did not inspire Chinese audiences as much as Hong Kong and Indian movies already in their third weekend in theaters. Starring the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis, and Ken Jeong, among many others, the film [...]

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content