Review: Figure-Sol – Cineuropa
– Tal Elkayam’s compilation of YouTube videos that counterpoint life in Tel Aviv and the West Bank becomes a gripping and piercing cinematic essay
Even before the era of YouTube activism coincided with the pandemic, filmmakers had begun assembling such homemade videos and creating documentaries, but often these were just technically competent thematic compilations. . However, in his first feature film, Figure-groundwhich had its world premiere in IDFA’s Luminous section and is now screened in Docaviv‘s Depth of Field competition, Israeli director Tal Elkayam skilfully counterpoints two realities of life in the country ravaged by apartheid through associative links, in order to create a true cinematic essay.
The videos come from two locations that are only an hour away from each other, but could just as easily be on different planets: Tel Aviv beach and the West Bank. On the beach, an air raid siren sounds and visitors hesitantly get up to leave and then return after ten minutes as the iron dome fends off missiles from Gaza. Smoke trails from the missiles are reflected in tear gas fired at Palestinian protesters in the next scene. A settler unleashes his aggressive dog on a Palestinian’s flock of sheep, while at the dog beach, canines swim and play with their masters. In a Kafkaesque scene, a distraught policeman confiscates a donkey, and a child rides one on the “first Hebrew carousel.” Suspected American Jew fumes at Trump and Netanyahu as she films the blue sea in vertical video, then we see the controversial PM himself standing on the sand against the blood-red sunset, talking about how Israel desalinates water and sends it to India and Latin America. In a valley in the West Bank, soldiers send shepherds who have brought their sheep to drink at a well. A child digs a hole in the sand on the beach and a bulldozer demolishes a water tower…
As the film progresses, Elkayam gradually lengthens the length he grants to each video. Now the debates are less dynamic but gain emotional depth as we witness an increasing number of verbal and physical conflicts within individual segments. One particularly angry piece shows inert soldiers who don’t care that three arrogant and obnoxious Israelis enter Palestinian land just to joke around.
The (lack of) quality of YouTube videos produces an image that would be blurry even on a TV, let alone on a large screen, but this also means that the colors are more intense and tend to blend into each other, offering an opportunity for a psychedelic transition in the middle of the film. With color grading from Elkayam and Neal Gibbs‘ score and sound design, it becomes an apocalyptic and nightmarish vision of fire and smoke, a simple but effective metaphor.
The fact that the movie essentially repeats more or less the same point in different ways doesn’t make it any less engaging or piercing. Thanks to the changing pace of the edit, the power of the individual segments increases, so that even juxtapositions that seem too obvious don’t really detract from the viewing experience.
Figure-ground is produced by Jerusalem-based +5sec, and Raina Films is handling international sales.