Opening this Saturday at the GableStage at the Biltmore, and running through August 7, the provocative and explosive stage play Masked is a candid depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a village on the West Bank, three Palestinian brothers are torn between their obligations to family, ideology, and survival as they wrestle with the life-and-death decision to either join the Palestinian resistance, reject it, or flee altogether.
As with any story or film delving in this volatile topic, Masked is controversial. But it seeks to start open-minded dialogue about its subject matter much like our Top Ten Films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have done. Some are controversial, others lighthearted, but all get people talking about an important issue:
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10. Hanna K. (1983)
Hannah Kaufman is an American-Jewish lawyer appointed to defend a Palestinian man accused of terrorism. At the time of its release, the film was widely ignored because of its contentious subject matter. Hannah, who is a child of Holocaust survivors, argues that Israel's policies on Arab refugees are responsible for the crimes her client is accused of. She presents a case that her client would continually sneak into Israel not to perpetrate acts of terrorism, but to reclaim his home, illegally seized by the Israeli government. Not the best film regarding the political strife in the Middle East (the movie drags during certain parts, and the characters are seriously one-dimensional), Hanna K. is nonetheless something of a bold effort with its timely and divisive themes.
9. David & Fatima (2008)
David & Fatima is basically Romeo & Juliet, but with a Jew and a Muslim. David, the handsome Israeli Jew, falls in love with Fatima, the beautiful Palestinian Muslim. Of course, their love is forbidden, and so the romance must be kept a secret from friends and family. Things get violent when their secret is out, and the two are forced to risk it all to be together. While the plot is cliché and sappy, the film works thanks to an engrossing script, great performances and the timely political commentary. The film delves in hope, and visits the perpetual themes of love and acceptance, but is honest in its portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
8. Beyond The Walls (1984)
7. Time of Favor (2000)
A rabbi's bold plan and a complex love-triangle plays out with a terrorist in Israel's West Bank as the backdrop. Time of Favor tells the tale of Rabbi Melzter's movement to pray at the temple mount while he tries to play matchmaker with his daughter Pini and his yeshiva's star pupil. Winner of six Israeli Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress, the film explores the volatile nature of relationships when they are mixed with religious zeal and military duty.
6. Ajami (2009)
Five different stories based in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa where Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, and Christians all reside are explored in non-linear fashion. There's Israeli Arab Omar, who is in love with a Christian girl and struggles to protect his family from a violent gang. Malek, an illegal Palestinian, works odd jobs to earn money for his mother's operation. There's also Israeli cop Dando, who diligently searches for his missing brother who may have been killed by Palestinians, while Binji is outcast by friends and family for associating with an Israeli girl. Ajami is an electric and moving film and a testimony to the power of collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers.
5. Munich (2005)
Eric Bana plays a former Mossad agent who is ordered to lead a small squad of assassins on a top secret mission to exact vengeance on the members of Black September, after the Palestinian terrorist group's massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. While the film is told mainly through the eyes of Bana's character and the Israeli government's retaliation, the film does serve as commentary at times, particularly during a scene where Bana debates the politics of the Middle East with his P.L.O. counterpart, as well as when one member of Bana's team begins to question the morality and purpose of their mission.
4. Lemon Tree (2008)
A Palestinian widow, who lives on the border between Israel and the West Bank, is suddenly forced to fight for her lemon grove when the Israeli Defense Minister moves to a house next door. The Israeli Secret Service regards the grove a threat to the Minister and his wife, and obtains permits to uproot the widow's lemon trees. Although drenched in symbolism, the film is actually based on true events. A beautifully shot and engrossing film, Lemon Tree serves as a modern parable to the conflict in the Middle East.
3. Lebanon (2009)
Four Israeli soldiers fighting in the 1982 Lebanon War inside a tank are called to clear a Lebanese area of hostile fighters. As they look to carry out their orders, the situation quickly becomes even more volatile than they expected and the soldiers soon find themselves in circumstances beyond their control. The film's bold and honest depiction of war and the tension felt throughout by the four soldiers earned Lebanon a Golden Lion Award at the 2009 Venice International Film Festival and has been called Das Boot in a tank.
2. Paradise Now (2005)
Lifelong friends Said and Khaled are recruited by an extremist group to carry out a suicide attack on civilians in Tel-Aviv. The two men are inadvertently separated at the border when Israeli border patrolmen chase them, leaving one of them to carry out the mission while wrestling with his own conscience as his friend and the extremist group try to track him down. Filled with suspenseful plot twists and outstanding performances, the emotionally charged Paradise Now was the first Palestinian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
1. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
This animated documentary chronicles the story of Israeli 1982 Lebanon War veteran Ari Folman, and his quest to revive forgotten and suppressed memories from the conflict after he suffers recurring nightmares. Hailed as disturbingly realistic in its depictions of the war, Waltz With Bashir became the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film (the film won the Golden Globe).
Masked opens this Saturday at GableStage at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $47.50. Call 305-445-1119 or visit GableStage.org.