Bagrut Lochamim – Berlinale Forum 2012

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Bagrut Lochamim (Soldier/Citizen)
Director: Silvina Landsmann
Israel, 2012

Saturday February 11
Delphi Filmpalast (European Premiere)

Argentinia-born Silvina Landsmann served in the Israeli Army and studied film in Tel Aviv before moving to Paris. She heard from her brother about courses organized by the Israel Defense Forces for soldiers who had not completed their matriculation exams before being drafted, and decided to make a film.

The result is a fly-on-the-wall observation of a microcosm of Israeli society at a critical juncture, in 2006 at the end of the Lebanon war.

They enter their Civics classroom carrying their weapons and their prejudices. Before entering the program, the soldiers are warned by the commanding officer that “You will be among minorities and children” and that the program’s “success rate isn’t so good.”

The hero of the film, an amazing teacher, introduces concepts from the standard Israeli civics textbook, Being Citizens in Israel: “Tolerance,” “Pluralism,” “Human and Civil Rights.”

Trouble starts on the first day, when soldiers protest the term “Pluralism,” shouting the teacher down, saying “If you want to use that word, say it in Arabic.” For twenty minutes, we hear vile, belligerently racist comments about Palestinians that eventually expand to include Israeli “leftists”, such as their teacher, who support the human and civil rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

But we also begin to hear the soldiers’ grievances against the “penguins” – the ultra-orthodox who have descended upon Israel, enjoying full privileges of citizenship with virtually none of the responsibilities, most notably the universal requirement for military service.

As the film progresses, we realize this genius of a teacher has created a space for thought and expression, outside of the bounds of political correctness, where he can engage these young soldiers honestly and directly about fundamental human and civil rights.

One of the most fascinating discoveries of the film is that these Jewish soldiers seem to be completely ignorant of the rules of combat that emerged from the Nuremburg trials.

Since this film was shot, the clash between decent Israelis and the fanatical right wing has shot into the stratosphere. The attitudes of Landsmann’s soldiers may seem relatively tame in comparison to what observers encounter today.

We are left with pessimism about the future of Israel, modulated by profound gratitude to brilliant teachers who are committed to their students and their society.

Berlinale Section: Forum