Not much to listen to in ‘Can You Hear Me?’

Friday, September 29, 2006 | by

michael fox



To put it bluntly, Lilly Rivlin’s ersatz documentary, “Can You Hear Me? Israeli and Palestinian Women Fight For Peace,” is a thesis in search of a movie.

At the very outset of the one-hour piece, the veteran New York filmmaker and one-time Berkeley political science student asserts that women should be given more power to resolve the ongoing war of attrition in the Middle East.

That’s a reasonable position. So reasonable, in fact, that it requires no supporting argument and provokes no counter-argument. Really, what is there to say on either side?

So two minutes in, the heartfelt “Can You Hear Me?” runs into a problem it barely addresses and never solves. Who does it aim to persuade or inspire, and what real-world difference does it hope to make?

Even viewers to the left of the political spectrum, who are sympathetic to the views espoused on camera by the various interviewees, will be frustrated by the complete lack of new information and insights.

In other words, “Can You Hear Me?” is superfluous, especially in light of the profusion of powerful documentaries made every year on the situation.

“Can You Hear Me? Israeli and Palestinian Women Fight For Peace” screens Oct. 7 and 8 in the Mill Valley Film Festival. The half-hour film “Voices of Patriots: Why Are We In Iraq?” opens the politically themed program.

Recognizing that anyone with a smidgen of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict likely has entrenched views, Rivlin seems to be going for novices by combining an entry-level, hit-and-run overview with a scattershot compendium of various women’s peace groups and activists.

Women in Black may be the most familiar group to Bay Area audiences, although it is far from the most impressive on display. That honor might go

to Machson (Checkpoint) Watch, whose 400 volunteers fan out in the scorching sun to try to speed up the passage of Palestinians with special needs (such as doctors) through security.

In addition to the checkpoints, the film includes a highly critical segment on the separation barrier and a fleeting reference to the settlements in the Occupied Territories. But “Can You Hear Me?” is so pallid that it’s foolish to get worked up over its pro-Palestinian sympathies.

The movie was plainly constructed in the editing room out of interviews and voice-over and standard-issue visuals. It was then stitched together with a heaping helping of pedantic narration, dutifully recited by actress Debra Winger.

The central problem is a woeful lack of unfolding scenes and compelling drama. Absolutely nothing happens, with the lone exception of a heated argument between Orthodox Jewish peace activist Leah Shakdiel (the first woman to sit on a local religious council) and Maha Abu Dayyeh-Shamas, an Israeli Arab whose main cause is domestic violence.

One can’t help but notice after a while that everyone speaks English. Since that eliminates the need for subtitles, perhaps it was a strategic decision to sidestep a prime hurdle to a U.S. television broadcast. But it seems highly exclusionary if Rivlin used English fluency to determine her subjects.

“Can You Hear Me?” is a well-meaning, deeply felt effort. But devoid of a narrative, it plays less like a documentary than an infomercial. That’s not good news, even when the product is peace.




“Can You Hear Me? Israeli and Palestinian Women Fight For Peace”
screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 at 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8 at the Smith Rafael

Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. in San Rafael. Tickets: $8-10 at www.mvff.com or (925) 866-9559.