Rock the Casbah, music and stones in the occupied territories
by Valentina di Michele
10/02/2013 - A group of young Israeli soldiers keeps guard on a rooftop in a Palestinian village in Rock the Casbah [trailer, festival scope], a debut feature film for Yariv Horowitz, who was welcomed with applauds at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival, where he took part in the Panorama section.
The film was born from Horowitz’s own experience as a photographer in the Israeli forces during the 1990s in the West Bank, where he witnessed first hand the obeisance of the inexpert soldiers, often students within the military, involved in a war they knew little about and didn’t understand.
Rock the Casbah starts and ends with an act of violence, in a vicious cycle impossible to stop.
It is 1989 during the Intifada and a group of Israeli youngsters – beautiful, occidental, and clearly from the city – are sent to Gaza to guard a Palestinian village.
The soldiers are unprepared to deal with the situation they are about to be confronted with, which predictably quickly gets out of hand. In a solitary pursuit, one of them is killed by a washing machine thrown from a house.
The absurd disgrace generates new absurdities: the soldiers occupy a house belonging to an Arab family and start taking station on its roof, from which they keep an eye on street movements and hope to find their culprit.
Up until here, there is nothing new for the genre – a war film with pacifist ambitions relying on reasons, different, but equally valid, from both sides of the conflict.
What makes Rock the Casbah interesting and believable though is the subtle bonds between characters born from a surreal situation. The Palestinian family feels taken hostage and fears it will be accused of collaborating by its neighbours. The Israeli occupants spend hours in the sun on the rooftop, listening to rock and exchanging insults and threats with a group of young from the village. The village’s routine is turned upside down by the presence of their unwelcome guests and no one seems to understand what the reasons of the conflict are.
Shot over 22 days in two villages of the occupied territories, the film encountered numerous obstacles due to its sensitive subject, raising a number of controversies back home (“for the left, it was too soft on the military, for the right it was too soft on the Arabs,” the director explained after his film’s screening).
Written by Horowitz and Guy Meirson, Rock the Casbah was a coproduction between Topia Communications (Israel), Crescendo Films and 13Productions (France) with the support of Arte France. The film will be distributed in its home country by United King Films and is being sold by German Films Boutique.
(Translated from Italian)