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VENICE 2022 Orizzonti

Review: Innocence

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- VENICE 2022: Guy Davidi’s documentary is based on home videos and diary entries of young Israelis who died during their compulsory military service

Review: Innocence

Any state that relies heavily on its military naturally seeks to convince other countries of the greatness and power of its army, and of the worthiness of its use, if possible. If it has the means to do so, it may even try to make its military power a lucrative asset attractive to other nations. This isn’t true only of Israel. However, the country is one of a relatively small number to still have compulsory military service, and therefore needs to publicise the mightiness and the usefulness of its army not just abroad, but also at home. Both in Israel and in the West, the general image of military service is that of a rite of passage, a tradition that may seem strange but is essentially harmless. Guy Davidi’s Innocence [+see also:
trailer
interview: Guy Davidi
film profile
]
, premiering in the Orizzonti section at this year’s Venice Film Festival, questions the Israeli status quo by focusing on children who did not make it back from the two to three years they were required to spend training with the Israel Defense Forces.

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What is immediately remarkable about the documentary is the way it manages to be both brutally down to earth and incredibly poetic. We see home movies showing four particular children as they casually talk to whoever is manning the camera about their upcoming military service, but also about normal kids’ stuff. Some of them are seen at various moments in their tragically short lives, as young children dancing at home or teenagers making stop-motion movies in their bedrooms. This feeling of immediacy and intimacy is compounded by entries, read as voice-overs, from their own diaries and from those of other unseen and sometimes unnamed trainees, in which each talks with heartbreaking eloquence about their hopes for the future and, specifically, about their thoughts on military service. Presented in a straightforward manner, this material alone would still have been extremely impactful. But rather than simply documenting the facts and thoughts of these dead soldiers-in-training, Davidi also seeks to make us feel the way they felt: alone, alienated from themselves, detached from everyone around them, guilty and in despair.

The film’s impressionistic, dreamlike structure therefore echoes the psychological torment of its subjects, who we slowly learn all felt a rising sense of disgust at the idea of military training – which in turn made them feel alone and isolated in a culture where to serve is an essential, patriotic act. Davidi knows that he does not need to make big statements or cite statistics to prove the existence of this culture; it is felt in the evasive way the kids in the home movies answer their parents’ enthusiastic questions about this important moment in their lives. It also jumps out at the viewer in the astonishing documentary scenes shot by Davidi in present-day Israel, showing two children during a normal day at school. A young boy is seen making paintings of soldiers while his teacher shows a picture of herself from her own military service; in another school, a slightly older girl realises for the first time that service is compulsory. Later on in the film, a home video shows one of the deceased young men back home from training for the weekend with a huge military rifle on his shoulder, right there in the middle of the living room. If anything, the way Davidi does not press the point about the pervasiveness of military culture here makes it all the more powerful, leaving us alone to face the absurdity of children talking about killing or carrying weapons.

Innocence shows its subjects as victims, but never as naive people who mindlessly followed the rules. These 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who died during service were not too young to know that killing was a grave act; on the contrary – Davidi’s film suggests it is the first thing anyone ever knows. This reluctance to kill or cause harm in any way was their innocence, and it wasn’t used against them; it was an obstacle that needed to be crushed. Davidi’s film, and his subjects’ words, allows us to witness the suffocating pressure they were under, their desperation at the mere idea of learning how to kill, and their sinking feeling that, as one of them writes, “You’ll never fulfil your dreams. You’ll never be free to be yourself.”

Innocence is a Danish-Israeli-Finnish-Icelandic co-production staged by Real Lava, Danish Documentary Production, Making Movies, Sagafilm and Medalia Film. Its international sales are handled by Autlook Filmsales GmbH.

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Photogallery 05/09/2022: Venice 2022 - Innocence

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Guy Davidi
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it

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