Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Yariv Horowitz
Stars: Yorn Tumarkin, Roy Niki, Yotam Ishay, Iftach Rave.
A lot of Israeli films have dealt with the complicated and controversial situation of Palestine and the West Bank, and many of them have been fairly critical of the Israeli government’s position. And so it is with Rock The Casbah, a drama that first screened at the Jewish Film Festival in 2013.
Rock The Casbah is the debut feature film from director Yariv Horowitz, who has worked in television and made a few short films. Horowitz was an army photographer in the 90s and he drew upon his first hand experiences of being posted to the West Bank and Gaza for many of the incidents in the film. He has also drawn upon stories he was told by fellow soldiers and journalists to shape the film, and this brings a personal perspective to a situation which effectively seems to be a stalemate with no winners. Horowitz was also keen to highlight the absurdity of the situation, and he worked with co-writer Guy Meirson (The Loners) to shape this drama.
Horowitz is anxious to seem even handed and non-judgmental here, and the film is quite balanced in its exploration of a tricky political situation. He doesn’t seem to cast blame at either side.
The time is 1989. Israeli soldiers are overseeing the Occupied Territories. Most of the young soldiers are inexperienced and are unsure of their role in keeping the peace. Their mission has only just started when one of them is killed when a washing machine is dropped from a rooftop. A squad of Israeli soldiers are charged with occupying the roof top and observing the local neighbourhood and trying to identify the perpetrators. But boredom quickly sets in, tensions mount, and we wait for one of the young soldiers to shoot somebody just to alleviate the drudgery.
The soldiers have little understanding of the bigger picture, and they begin to question why they are even there. They are longing for the end of their tour so they can return to the comforts of home. They are also at odds with the Palestinian family who live in the house below them. The father of the house constantly insists that they have no authority to be there, but his pleas are ignored. The locals are also resentful of their presence and just want to be left alone to get on with their lives. There are a few exchanges with the locals that leave the soldiers feeling battered and even more frustrated as their rules of engagement prohibit them from firing their weapons first.
The main character here is Tomer (played by Yoni Tumarkin), a young soldier who slowly begins to lose his grip on reality and is heading for a breakdown. However, there is little support or help available for him. The commander of the unit is the cynical Ariel (Yotam Ishay), who doesn’t quite face up to his responsibilities and authority. He brings a battery operated radio with him so they can at least listen to some music to while away the hours. Aki (Roy Niki) is the more quick tempered of the group, while Haim (Iftach Rave) is a bit of a slob who uses the corner of the roof as his own personal toilet.
Tomer forms a bond with the inquisitive young son of the Palestinian family who seems fascinated with their guns and weapons. Although he is playing around, this almost leads to another tragedy that could further inflame the situation.
The language barrier between the soldiers and the locals also further complicates matters. Horowitz cast a number of Arab actors in the film and apparently he allowed them to improvise their dialogue, which adds authenticity. Rock The Casbah also seems fairly sympathetic of the Palestinian family whose house they occupy.
But it becomes a little difficult to identify with the Israeli soldiers as they all seem pretty much the same and it is hard to tell them apart. We get little of their backstory to help empathise with them, and this is the main weakness of an otherwise quite powerful and engaging drama.