Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“August: A Moment Before the Eruption,” Avi Mograbi, 2002

Avi Mograbi is an interesting character.  Known as a filmmaker for his innovative techniques, “August: A Moment Before the Eruption” is truly a unique film about Israeli people and their reaction to conflict.  Shot over the course of a month, Mograbi’s pseudodocumentary shifts between self-indulgent YouTube-style commentary, auditions for a failed film project, images of men, women and children on the street, and news clips.  His end product provides a global conversation on the lack of cooperation between divided parties and how the people in this region thrive on conflict.

The Middle East is a troubled place.  The conflict between Israel and Palestine seems never ending and becomes more hostile and deadly as each year passes. Media coverage relishes on violent marches and daily protests.  In August, above any other month, terrible things happen at every turn.  Mograbi, just like his camera, puts on an act as an independent enemy: a menace and instigator of trouble on the streets of Tel Aviv.  

The filmmaker expresses his discontent with the content of his own documentary through the musings of his wife, whom he pretends to be by wearing a towel on his head.  “Terrible things happen at every turn,” she says, “but you can’t seem to film them.”  A great deal of the film becomes Mograbi filming normal people doing normal things.  While she may have been correct, what he pastes together from his interactions with Israelis is just as effective, if not more, as footage of actual violence.

The word “August,” as the film progresses, begins to take on new meanings.  August, as Mograbi says early on, is “cruel,” “unnecessary” and “leads to nowhere.”  The month of August becomes symbolic with the irrepressible discontent and misappropriated hate that fills the people of Israel.  At first, people are only curious is Mograbi is a journalist.  They ask him why he finds it necessary to stand on a street corner and shoot images of people talking and engaging in average daily functions.  They tell him he can’t film and start aggravating Mograbi, whose counter attacks only further prove that tension is inescapable.

Mograbi uses his fictionalized tiff between his business partner and wife as another example of the elevated tensions in August.  The two characters bicker over Mograbi’s documentary – she thinks it’s a foolish decision because she finds the month to be delightful and can’t understand why he is so highly critical of his own people.  His business partner Ronny, on the other hand, doesn’t understand why Mograbi is working on the doc instead of the film about the Hebron massacre of 1994 that they’re putting together. Through her confrontation with his business partner, his wife begins to understand why Mograbi can’t find anything good to say about August.

Mograbi’s off-beat sense of humor goes to extreme of saying that the citizens of Israel enjoy sexual gratification from their heightened state of anger and hate.  His split-screen madness escalates on a parallel timeline with his man-on-the-street interviews, climaxing as Mograbi begins to fight with people and his wife and Ronny’s shouting match turns sexual. The title of the film takes on a more apparent meaning as his wife is literally penetrated with anger and as she and Ronny exclaim moans of joy and frustration, the film abruptly ends, leaving the audience in as much of an aggravated state as the subjects of his film.

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