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Israeli-Palestinian conflict's human toll

`Encounter Point's' personal perspective is often powerful, but its haphazard design blunts the overall impact.

March 02, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Amid discussions of its historical and political ramifications, it can be easy to lose sight of the all-too-human costs of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which makes the personalized, micro-view of a documentary such as "Encounter Point" all the more vital and refreshing.

Director Ronit Avni, with a team that includes co-director Julia Bacha (who worked on the Al Jazeera doc "Control Room"), focuses on individual stories from both sides and the contradictory feelings the human beings who are swept up by circumstance struggle with daily. Can you ever face the mother of the boy who killed your son? Can those who once jailed you peacefully be your neighbor? In examining the small-scale battles that make up people's everyday lives, the film presents an anti-dogmatic lack of rhetoric that is in contradistinction to the fanning-the-flames ranting and haranguing of local television talk-show hosts. (The Middle East seems to have those too.)

By breaking down the conflict to its most personal impacts, "Encounter Point" remains accessible, and valuable, even to those with no immediate stake in the situation. People are shown trying to reach common ground where they can simply live their lives alongside one another. As a Palestinian man says, "You don't have to love the Israelis to make peace with them."

During one of the film's most memorable sequences, a convoy of cars is trying to reach a meeting in the Palestinian territories but is denied access at a series of border crossings. The ensuing phone calls between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, ostensibly about driving directions, become a snapshot of the conflict, demonstrating a lack of listening, empathy and understanding on both sides. The moments are oddly funny and deeply troubling.

The film's biggest drawback, as it has been photographed and edited, is that it has no unifying style as unique as its content. The consistently eye-opening nature of the interactions between individuals, such as when one middle-aged Israeli talks to a Palestinian for the very first time, is given no visual context. Strung together from countless shots of people just talking, driving and sitting around, "Encounter Point" looks like countless other films that have been made on the situation in the Middle East.

Though Avni and her colleagues have created a film that seeks a new way of framing the debate between Palestinians and Israelis, their message is blunted by a lackluster, ill-conceived construction.

"Encounter Point." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869; Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd.; Encino (818) 981-9811.

Director Ronit Avni will participate in a Q&A after the 7:20 p.m. screenings March 3, 5, 6, 7 screenings at the Music Hall.

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