The Man Without A Cell Phone

The Israeli Film Festival is back in town! And that means…well, interesting stuff. Israel is a weird place, at least according to its movies. Much like the USA, it is infected with self-loathing—but there’s a distinct lack of abstraction to the threats to Israel’s existence.

For example, this film, The Man Without A Cell Phone is about a happy-go-lucky Palestinian (which, I guess, is what they call the non-Jews in Israel, even though prior to the formation of the state, it was the Israelis who were called Palestianians, go figger) named Jawdat.

Jawdat—like all young men today the world over, apparently—is kind of a slacker. He’s a cheerful, optimistic fellow, though, with a lot of romantic interests. He’s nominally Muslim though we never see him worship and his uncle has a liquor store (vandalized, presumably by Muslim fanatics). Also, the first girlfriend of his we meet is a Christian, and he breezily explains to her parents that religion won’t be a problem, since the first child can be Muslim and the second be Christian. (Or the other way around, he’s reasonable!)

He works with his buddy pouring cement, and his father wants to bequeath the family olive trees to him, but Jawdat has bigger ideas. He wants to go to the university but it requires a Hebrew test he doesn’t take very seriously (and so fails repeatedly). But all his plans are thwarted, even one to escape to the West Bank.

Adding to the stress is his father’s constant harping over a cell phone radio tower, said tower Jawdat makes it his mission to get taken down.

Israel is an oppressive force in this (basically light-hearted) comedy. It’s hard, if you’ve never seen an Israeli film, to get how severe the security is in Israel and yet how in stride they’re able to take it. Even when machine guns are being wielded and scary intelligence officers harass Jawdat, the film maintains its light tone.

I have to assume there’s a fairly dramatic difference in how people experience this film. Like, I felt for Jawdat that he was being harassed despite his innocent intentions. At the same time, it’s not like Israelis can trust Palestinians to not,  you know, blow people and stuff up. And there’s a weird mentality that I’ve seen in a number of these films, where the Jews are these powerful oppressors whose actions are completely out-of-the-blue.

The other funny thing is that everyone in this Palestinian village has a cell phone. They’re used as the primary means of communication. When the tower is burned at one point, the village is basically crippled. But the Palestinians become obsessed with taking it down. And their understanding is about at the level of a caveman: Every glitch, every mystery, every emotional outburst ends up being focused on this tower—not as a symbol but as a literal cause of bad things (due to “radiation”).

If this were an American movie, of course, the protagonists would come up with the clever scheme to blow the tower up, thus striking a blow against an evil corporation. In this case, the government owns the tower and blowing stuff isn’t a fun abstraction—it makes a completely different statement there from what it would in American movie.

We liked it. It was fun, interesting (and short).

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