Just saw “West Bank Story,” the 2007 Oscar winner for best live action short. Breathtakingly bad. A parody of “West Side Story” about competing Israeli and Palestinian falafel stands, the film is an unmitigated disaster: fifteen long minutes of horrible slapstick, unfunny songs and, most egregiously, infantile cliches that undercut its ostensible message of co-existence.
What struck me most while watching it was its glaring inauthenticity. Though it seems there were Israelis and Palestinians associated with this film, its humor is based largely in schticky Western stereotypes of both peoples – sort of like “Weird Al Yankovic Goes to the West Bank” (but not nearly as clever…)
Director Ari Sandel claims to have made this film with idealistic intent. Upon accepting his award, he said in his speech:
To be able to get this award just goes to show that there are so many people out there that support that notion that when it comes to a situation between Israelis and Palestinians hope is not hopeless.
If there is hope in this botch-job, I didn’t catch it. Quite the opposite, actually. In the film’s final line, the Israeli man tells his Palestinian lover that if their people can’t get along, he will take her to a place where “Jews and Muslims live in harmony: Beverly Hills.” On the surface it’s just a stupid punch line – but it contains an unintended resonance of cynicism. (Indeed, part of the tragedy of this conflict is precisely that moderates from both sides are emigrating and leaving the conflict to their respective extremes.)
So in the end, we have a fairly hopeless message from a totally clueless movie. How on earth did this drek manage to win the Academy Award?
For very obvious reasons, there aren’t an abundance of film comedies dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for those who are interested in this sub-sub genre, I personally recommend “Divine Intervention” by the young Palestinian director Elia Suleiman.