Movie review: 'Defamation' director has lost his way
Take an Israeli director, the hot-button issue of anti-Semitism, and people arguing from both sides of the fence that it exists and it doesn’t exist. What you’ve got is a recipe for a controversial contemporary documentary.
Alas, director Yoav Shamir instead gives us a mishmash of talking heads (actually, a couple of them are yelling heads), some of whom hate each other, and a simplistic, misinformed and irresponsible answer to the series of questions he conjures throughout the film.
Shamir’s main question in “Defamation” asks if there is still anti-Semitism in the world. Pretty dumb question to begin with. Does a week go by where you don’t read a news story about gravestones being tipped over in a Jewish cemetery or swastikas being painted on a synagogue? Mr. Shamir, anti-Semitism is alive and well in America.
But maybe Shamir knew that. Maybe that’s why he focused his film on two groups of people in two very non-American locales. Narrating incessantly, Shamir follows Abe Foxman, the national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League – which keeps track of incidents of anti-Semitism – as he and ADL board members travel to Europe to discuss the problem with heads of state. The film also tags along with a group of impressionable Israeli high-schoolers as they visit Poland and are brought to a death camp.
Not a bad approach to the subject, but as all of this is playing out, Shamir starts wondering if talking about the Holocaust has any relevance with anti-Semitism today.
Is he suggesting that we should talk about it more? Does he think that if we stop talking about it, it will go away? Does he want the world to pretend that it never happened? This is never explained.
In an early meeting with Foxman, he’s given data: The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States is currently about 1,500 a year. This includes cases of Jewish people not being allowed to take time off for the holidays.
One of the Israeli high-schoolers tells him, “We are raised in the spirit of knowing that we’re hated.”
Back in New York, the director chats with young black folks in the street, one of whom tells him about Jews: “They’re part of the mind control system that they use in television and media.” What does all of this have to do with the Holocaust, you might ask.
It appears that the director doesn’t have a clue. When the kids finally arrive at one of the camps, they’re disappointed that they don’t feel any emotions. Yet by the end of the film, when things have sunk in, one of them suggests that they should go out and kill any descendants of Nazis.
Pretty strong stuff.
But wait till you meet college professor Dr. Norman Finkelstein, self-hating Jew and author of the book “The Holocaust Industry,” which traces the history of, in his terms, “Jews making political use of the Holocaust.” Cut to Abe Foxman, who says, “Every time there is a conflict in the Middle East between Israel and somebody else, the level of anti-Semitism rises because the anti-Semites come out of the woodwork.”
Soon Shamir, whose narration is so out of control it’s taken the shape of babbling, arrives at an epiphany about anti-Semitism, one that makes so little sense, there’s a chance he wasn’t listening to what any of his interview subjects were saying. It won’t be revealed here, but if you see the film and hear what he’s come up with, you might start to wonder if maybe there’s a small strain of anti-Semitism running through him, too.
The Patriot Ledger