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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: No Other Land

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- Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham and Rachel Szor sign a moving and intimate debut documentary on the eviction of Palestinians from ancestral West Bank villages

Review: No Other Land

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say — but whether this translates in today’s world is another question. The camera’s might against the firearm is newly investigated in No Other Land [+see also:
interview: Basel Adra, Yuval Abraham
film profile
]
, a documentary by a Palestinian–Israeli collective that just made its world premiere in the Panorama section of the 74th Berlinale.

No Other Land is a collaboration between Palestinian lawyer and journalist Basel Adra, Palestinian photographer and farmer Hamdan Ballal, Israeli investigative journalist Yuval Abraham, and Israeli cinematographer Rachel Szor — all four are credited as directors and editors. Basel and Yuval (referred to by their first names in the film) are also central subjects, while Ballal makes a few memorable appearances as the skeptic of the group: “Oh, you’re a ‘human rights’ Israeli?” laughs Ballal when he first meets Yuval.

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No Other Land is just as specific as it is affectively generalisable to other contemporary frameworks of structural domination in its depiction of powerlessness under a repressive state. It does not engage directly with the most recent Israel–Hamas conflict, instead documenting the forced displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank’s Masafer Yatta, comprised of a group of rural villages. The central narrative thread is woven around the working relationship between Yuval and Basel, whose closeness and trust over years of collaboration can be seen through physical affection and deep conversations. Even then, there’s an unavoidable divide between them, built by the power dynamics in the system: Yuval’s complete freedom of movement, Basel’s complete confinement.

From the start, there’s no looking away from the footage that the collective presents. Viewers are immediately witness to the destruction of concrete homes, diegetically set to the screams of Palestinian families asking why the Israeli state is doing such an act. The film also makes a villain of a man in charge of the onsite eviction orders, known only by the mononym Ilan. Playing the long arm of the state, he coolly wears reflective sunglasses and moisture-wicking Nike t-shirts in a getup that epitomises a sort of banality of evil. No Other Land becomes a gut punch that keeps on giving, where the haunting imagery never loses its power; Ilan could wear a clown suit and still have the absolute ability to decimate every home built and rebuilt in Masafer Yatta. The film even becomes so overwhelming at times that it instills in the viewer a sense of utter futility — are we really all so powerless?

The critical rawness of the film’s footage is put into perspective in a late sequence involving a brief visit by international journalists who end up seeming intrusive, performative, and out of touch with the Palestinian reality. Professional video equipment and an interview with a grieving mother hold no weight against Basel’s and Yuval’s phone and camcorder footage deep in the heart of the struggle where the camera is held right up to the faces of military police, highly confrontational and leaving no question about its subjectivity. These “amateur” cameras most dynamically capture experiences of the oppressed as the two activists flee from the authorities — while recording, phones are lost in the brush during physical altercations, later retrieved.

No Other Land is at its best when it achieves cinematographic mobility, the camera acting as an extension of this activist interrogation of violent Israeli occupation and not as a detached observer. By the end of the film, the extent of powerlessness is palpable, but the filmmakers offer a shred of hope in this transnational act of solidarity and resistance.

No Other Land is a Palestinian-Norwegian co-production between Yabayay Media and Antipode Films.

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