One of two documentaries released this month by Koch Lorber Films Ido Haar's 9 Star Hotel (2007) follows a group of Palestinian illegal immigrants as they sneak in Israel looking for work. Pic does not pretend to provide a complete look at the current socio-economic conditions across the Israeli-Palestinian border, yet, it captures a reality many in the US might find strangely familiar.
Wandering between the elegant new buildings of an Israeli border town and the primitive shelters built by a group of illegal Palestinian workers Haar's camera brings a sense of déjà vu. Strikingly familiar to the issues we face on our Southern border the drama unfolding in 9 Star Hotel is gut-wrenching. Men are seen sleeping in thick paper boxes, eating bread with mashed tomatoes, and talking about saving enough to afford a family.
Many of the immigrants Haar follows have been deported to Palestine before. Yet, with nothing left behind they are back in Israel until the next army raid cleans up the area. Or, the next bad news about a sick or dying family member forces them to return home.
Haar's desire to enter the gray world of illegal immigrants however has produced nothing more than a poignant documentation of personal tragedies, the kind of which we occasionally read about in the US media. Of course, involving our neighbors from the South. These are the same people, with similar motives behind their decisions, with equal amount of desperation raging in their souls.
As such 9 Star Hotel does not aim to suggest a rational angle to the actions of the immigrants. Haar does not provide any sort of commentary clarifying the risks these people are faced with. The camera simply observes what currently takes place in an area the Israeli director knows well. Right and wrong are not terms used in this film.
Unlike Haar however I found it difficult to remain passive to the imagery shown on the screen. The world 9 Star Hotel introduces is so inhumane and impossible to rationalize that it simply begs for a reaction. Even though whether one justifies or condemns the actions of the Palestinian men is practically irrelevant. I sense that Haar's main goal was only to gather the attention of those who might have chosen to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration. And as such the director's intent is commendable.
Of course the glaring question I have after finishing 9 Star Hotel is Now what? Will things change? Will people miraculously stop crossing the border? Will grey businesses stop exploiting the desperate?
Seems unlikely. Not because I do not believe that there aren't legal mechanisms that could prevent or at least minimize illegal immigration. But because I do not believe that there are laws that could address human desperation, the kind that forces people to gamble everything, even their lives, hoping that they could reverse their fortunes.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the documentary looks good. Contrast is variable and in synch with the variable landscape (poorly-lit night scenes, daylight scenes, etc). Damage is not present and the actual print is transferred progressively. Colors are natural and in general I could not detect any issues with the overall look of the presentation worthy of discussing here. I am pleased with the manner in which Koch Lorber Films have transferred the film from its original source.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an Arabic DD 2.0 track and optional English subtitles the audio treatment very much reflects the video description above. There aren't any issues to report here. Dialog is easy to follow and the natural fluctuations of the speech the camera captures are preserved.
The only supplemental materials here are the original theatrical trailer and an interview with Ido Haar where he addresses the topic of his film as well as the reasoning behind his decision to film current events across the Israeli-Palestinian border.
9 Star Hotel is an incredibly moving documentary providing a fascinating look at the daily struggles of a group of young Palestinians in their plight to make ends meet. Pic takes a distinctively intimate approach to the issue at hand avoiding unneeded politicizing. The presentation by Koch Lorber Films is of deserving quality and fans of foreign documentaries should be pleased with the effort.