Reviewed at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Before he directed 1988’s astounding “The Vanishing” and 1993’s astoundingly disappointing American remake of the same film, Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer made a trilogy of documentaries entitled “Land of the Fathers” that followed two Palestinian families through their experiences in 1974, 1978 and 1983 — the last, “Adios Beirut,” he mentioned was sold to PBS but never broadcast. With “Homeland,” one of the films making its world premiere at Abu Dhabi, Sluizer revisits those two families, now spread out over Lebanon, Colombia, the U.A.E. and other locations, and also puts himself and his feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict center stage.
“Homeland” starts quietly, with Sluizer discussing his own history, the earlier films, the aneurysm two years ago that left him needing crutches or a wheelchair to get around, and how that brush with mortality encouraged him to revisit the past. It ends with him looking in on a comatose (and heavily Photoshopped) Ariel Sharon, telling him the world would have been a better place if he’d died in Auschwitz along with much of Sluizer’s Dutch family. So, no mincing around with ambiguities here. The sincerity of Sluizer’s feelings are without question — his reunions with each family member, particularly the elderly head of the large Hammad family, are tearful and joyous, his fury in the face of the displaced from their homes palpable.
But “Homeland” wanders into browbeating Michael Moore-style documentary techniques, even before Sluizer’s diatribe to an unhearing, hospitalized Sharon. He walks up to Jewish settlers living in a formerly Arab house in East Jerusalem and asks to speak to the young man who answers the door on camera. When the young man says that someone else in their household speaks to the press and that he’s not home at the moment, Sluizer taunts “I guess now the most oppressed have become the oppressors!” An interview he does get with an American settler who needs no help looking ridiculous is nevertheless abusively edited to cut her off mid-sentence in her responses. Discordant string music swells behind periodic quotes from Sharon and others about how “if I was only an Israeli civilian and met a Palestinian, I would burn him and make him suffer before killing him.”
Regardless of where you stand on Israel and Palestine, the amount of vitriol on display in “Homeland” and the determined one-sideness of the argument is startling and off-putting, the language on occasion powerfully uncomfortable — Sluizer speaks, for instance, about the biased reporting of all the “Jewish news agencies.” These things basically guarantee “Homeland” will never screen for an audience not already sympathetic towards and invested in the Palestinian cause — it won’t win someone over. (It’s slated to eventually air on the Aljazeera Documentary Channel, but at the moment has no theatrical distributor in place.) It’s fiery agitprop, but it’s not a well-made movie.
“Homeland” does not yet have U.S. distribution.