Review: ‘Remembering Palestine’ (Sobhi al-Zobaidi)

Réminiscences d’un voyage en Palestine
Directed by Dominique Dubosc

Review by Sobhi al-Zobaidi


Remembering Palestine, which was screened at Sakakini Center (Ramallah) on 1.4.04, is a film that I dare to say belongs to the realm of the unconscious more than the conscious. It is dark, shady, and horrific and it is filled with those images that one is bound to see in one’s dreams because they are very strong images. It is also because there is almost no narrative in the film, no spoken word to anchor the images in a certain logic or order. The images we see in the film are similar to those images we see on the screen of our dreams, they are related by association, and filled with horrors that can unleash our most hidden fears and repressions.

Even the very short narrative that opens the film is that kind of narrative that helps to mystify rather than clarify what we are going to see. It is not really narration in the classical sense of the word, but much like the voice of Derek Jarman in the film Blue. It is an almost hallucinatory voice that belongs to the realm of the unconscious more than to the voice of the mind. In that short narrative we only hear about colors, which become the metaphors for whatever feelings, fears, and thoughts the filmmaker has about his subject.

We see the illustrations in the film develop forcefully as if memory or the unconscious were making their way through the artist to the white page. The artist doesn’t seem like someone creating something anew but rather like someone struggling with the past, trying to deal or cope with it. In this sense, I would say that the film is not really about “Remembering Palestine” but more like a “Remembrance of Palestine”. Because what we see in the film is memory making its way through the conscious and the unconscious. Memory forces its way exactly like a dream. When we dream of something, we can’t say that we are remembering, but we can say that it is a remembrance. It is memory uncontained, unleashed, disordered and apparent. It is memory forcing its way to the surface.

The unconscious economy of the film works through disorder, invoking thus whatever terror is stored inside of us. It doesn’t matter if it is something that I have lived or that I have only seen and the nationality or religion of the terrorized doesn’t matter either. At one instant in the film, in the chapter called “Landscape after the incursion”, I felt that I was watching a post-World War II film showing the atrocities of the Nazis. In that instant we see ruined buildings in the background, emptiness, silence and we see one man crossing the frame. The way he walks and the way he looks tells us that he is not normal. When I first saw the man I thought he was a Jew who has just walked out of the Holocaust. But then it was Gaza.

I was personally struck by the contrast between Ramallah and Gaza. Despite the shelling and killing, Gaza appeared intimate and warm, Ramallah on the contrary was cold and distant. This is how I usually describe my own feelings towards the two places; I find Gaza more human, warmer, and much more down to earth than the snobbish and aloof Ramallah. When I asked the filmmaker about this he answered me quickly; ‘This is how I felt.’ Of course, in other words, we can say that this is how he was made to feel by the overall experience of the place and the people.

Remembering Palestine is a powerful film that engages us Palestinians in world horrors smoothly and poetically. It is not that kind of film one would use to explain the Palestinian problem to any audience and I don’t think that this is what the filmmaker wanted to do. Rather it is that kind of film that could insert the terrorized and repressed Palestinian into the private and hidden experience of terror, which I believe is a universal experience although in various degrees. After all, it may be more powerful to work on people’s unconscious to make them experience what it means to be Palestinian at this moment, especially since so much of the world’s consciousness has made no difference in changing the prospects for us Palestinians.