The Banality of Forgiveness

His protagonist may be a sympathetic person, engaging, affable and charming; but he is also a murderer, an assasin and may even have enjoyed  the thrill of execution at the time the killings were carried out. Is this young man one of us or a psychopathic killer in disguise? His girlfriend, when he asks if she thinks he is a killer or not,vascillates and is blocked from providing straight answer; and holds her forgiveness to his head, like a weapon.She may even enjoy this power and her boyfriends notoriety.

Avi Mograbi’s documentary essay, a tragico-musical documentary-drama with black comedy overtones, called Z32, takes the themes of  Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir one step further and explores the guilt, dissociative, and repressed memory that many Israelis face on a daily basis. Mograbi films a young soldier who takes full responsibility for the war crimes he has committed but expects, perhaps mistakenly, to be forgiven. He describes the training he received – training which turned men like himself into soulless trigger-itchy killing machines, robots who bathe in ambivalence.The film  remains a study on aesthetic of violence, and its larger role both psychologically and as part of a technologically advanced society.

The characters wear masks, which undelines the annymonity of violence; that acts involving personal tragedy, and mortality can be committed anonymously. Mograbi’s work is similar to Hannah Arent’s coverage of the Adolph Eichmann trial in 1963, called  ”Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report On The Banality of Evil”, where The Third Reichs central figure for the implementation of the Final Solution, pleaded in his defense, that he was only following orders. Arendt, in effect, sought to demystify the so called spontaneous component of violence, by studying systematic risks, and the social mechanisms which triggered them.  Arendt reported that  extensive and comprehensive  pre-trial psychological testing on Eichmann disclosed he was a highly normal man, unexceptional man, in the clinical sense ,exhibiting an absence of violent pathologies one would have expected to find. In fact, it is this normality, this homogenous, clinging conformity to the standard mean which is perhaps the most terrifying aspect of violence, whether in Z32 or in  the highly rational and composed Eichmann.

”Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public…Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. “Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone.”( Edward S. Herman )

Mograbi, Z32

Mograbi, Z32

The radical elements of Mograbi’s project combine to raise painful and unsettling questions about responsibility, forgiveness and the limits and possibilities of cinematic truth.An investigation of the way the military dehumanizes both soldiers and “the enemy” and, by extension, Israeli society, as an example of Western style democracies,and their value systems,  as a whole. By partially concealing their faces with digitized masks, the anonymous confessor reveals the contradictions between a soldier’s reflex  experience of real combat and a civilian’s need for forgiveness and options available to rationalize guilt. The girlfriend, a thoughtful listener, raises the moral issues while assimilating the unbearable thought, difficult to accept at first, that her boyfriend is a murderer.

Mograbi  inserts himself in the narrative, as is his style, like a Paul Auster novel, he participates here, speaking and singing to Kurt Weil style music, dirges  of his own self-doubt as an artist and political activist. His ironic commentary underlines his ambivalence, a passive aggressive nature towards violence His protagonist is so genuinely likeable that amnesia over his actions seems appropriate. Mograbi’s ingenious film, leads us through the labyrinth of national duty and sacrifice, admissions of guilt, desire for forgiveness and a soldier’s reality that is rarely discussed. The title Z32 is taken from the case number assigned the testimony.

”Mograbi’s primary concern is violence. No longer is it possible to believe, he contends, that the violence that characterizes the interaction of Palestinians and Israeli Jews is limited to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, violence shapes and molds Israeli society and public life as a whole. In fact, for Mograbi, this violence lies at the very heart of the Zionist endeavor in Palestine. The violence that characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply its latest manifestation. …Most importantly, Mograbi points out that a filmmaker cannot explore violence without becoming subjected to the very same violence, as its victim or, more probably, as its perpetrator. …He accentuates the aggression that is involved in filmmaking, and repeatedly shows himself, a camera in hand, in violent altercations with the people whom he seeks to shoot, pushing and shoving, pushed and shoved. At times it seems that Mograbi elicits the most aggressive reactions, both from the people who happen, incidentally or not, to enter his frame as well as from himself, when he insists upon his right to shoot in public spaces. The very presence of his camera thus exposes not only the violence that is played “in front” of it, but also the violence that is directed both from and at the camera.”( Shai Ginsburg )

Z32, Mograbi, 2009

Z32, Mograbi, 2009

The cinematic sweep and flow is dictated by a mix of David Lynch aesthetic mixed with Berthold Brecht that seeks to establish a critical distance between the film and its viewers, forcing them to critically examine and evaluate not only what they see on the screen, but themselves in a less passive  and consuming role that they are accustomed to. In enacting the way the filmmaker himself becomes subjected to the forces explored in the film, Mograbi points out that viewers are likewise subjected to these very same forces. Viewers cannot, then, leave the screening with a self-satisfaction that in watching the film they have fulfilled a moral obligation. On the contrary, they have to recognize that notwithstanding their political convictions and activity, they are not exempted from the corruption of violence. Indeed, like Mograbi, they form part of the problem.

" style="width: 487px">Z32, Mograbi

Z32, Mograbi

In Z32, Avi Mograbi succeeds in approaching the issue of violence and the value of his own contribution as engaged film maker.His answer is disturbing and uneasy, perhaps contributing to the misunderstandings and promoting its more nefarious manifestations:” He is pessimistic about its value. A filmmaker, he suggests, cannot help but duplicate the very regime of vision he seeks to undo in his films. This is, arguably, Mograbi’s unique and crucial contribution to one’s understanding of cinema, a lesson that transcends the director’s more immediate preoccupation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Cinema/Visual/Audio, Miscellaneous, Modern Art, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.