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Free Zone

Seville Pictures // Unrated // September 8, 2006
List Price: $23.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted November 5, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Three women - an American, an Israeli, and a Palestinian – embark on a journey amidst the dusty roads of Jordan.

Rebecca (Nathalie Portman) has decided to part ways with her fiancée and leave Jerusalem as soon as possible. She packs her personal belongings and heads towards the closest taxi station.

Hanna (Hanna Laszlo) is a taxi driver who often commutes between Israel and Jordan. She is on her way to the Free Zone to collect a sizeable amount of money when Rebecca gets into her cab.

In the Free Zone Hanna meets Leila (Hiam Abbass) a Palestinian who will offer to guide her taxi to "The Oasis"- a place where Hanna must collect her money. Upon arrival something unusual happens.

Immediately after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year Free Zone (2005), Israeli director Amos Gitai's latest film, became a heated topic for discussion. The film's notorious kissing scene courtesy of charming Natalie Portman and fellow actor Aki Avni angered many Jewish officials who felt that Amos Gitai had gone a step too far in filming "lewdness" next to the Wailing Wall. As a result Free Zone gathered more attention than it should have!!

Like Gitai's previous films Free Zone plays as a realistic barometer of a culture and a region marred by never-ending bloody conflicts. This time around the director's camera roams freely amidst the Israeli-Jordanian border while documenting three women struggling to endure absurdity. Unfortunately neither the story nor the film's technical presentation are on par with what one would rightfully expect from the creator of Kadosh (1999). Free Zone is a film blemished by shaky characters and questionable pacing.

Shot as a collage of continuous memory flashbacks and fractured bits of "reality" Free Zone opens up with an approximately ten minute cry scene where Nathalie Portman showcases a tremendous emotional collapse. Then the film stops! Just as the main protagonists appear stuck in traffic most of the time so does Gitai's story – there is hardly any chemistry between the lead actors and for the most part their actions provide very little to get the audience interested. With the exception of Hanna Laslo who keeps Free Zone from being a complete disaster the rest of the cast feels as if they never managed to learn their lines (for which there is a valid "excuse" as Gitai has made it well known that the dialog was largely improvised). Finally, the little consistency Free Zone manages to achieve is unceremoniously disfigured by the actors' intimidating mumbling which English speakers will have a difficult time deciphering.

Despite of my enormous respect for Amos Gitai both as a director and an outspoken critic of what he sees as an obstacle in achieving lasting peace in the Middle-East his latest film left me cold and disappointed. There is hardly anything here that has not already been told better and in more convincing fashion. The all-star cast is impressive, their collaboration isn't!!

Awards/ Recognition:

In 2005 the film was nominated for four Awards by the Israeli Film Academy: Best Actor (Makram Khoury), Best Actress (Hanha Laszlo), Best Music (Hava Alberstein/Jaroslav Jakubovic), Best Supporting Actress (Hiam Abbass). During the same year the film won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

How Does the Film Look?

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this Canadian release by Seville appears to be exactly what we have come to expect from the R1 distrib: a PAL-NTSC port, most likely derived from the French R2 disc. Due to the film's naturalistic look it is quite difficult to tell what was the intentional look desired by the director and what is a faulty treatment. As far as I am concerned Free Zone looks rather acceptable and without any disturbing print damage. The image is often soft and at times (the Jordanian borer scene is a good example) rather unstable. Contrast is even harder to judge as I am fairly certain that the "dirty" look the film relies on is indeed intentional. Regardless, the fact that we are dealing with yet another PAL-port further exacerbates some of the minor issues this DVD is plagued with, edge-enhancement being one of them, and if you are determined to own it I would recommend that you opt for the R2 release.

How Does the DVD Sound?

Presented with an English 5.1 track and a French 5.1 dub as optional French subtitles (partial English subtitles are used for the opening scene) the audio appears to be handled rather well. The manner in which this film is shot however makes it almost impossible to comprehend what the main protagonists utter most of the time. The mumbling is indeed part of the film's composition (though standing in the way of a pleasurable viewing experience) and I do not think that there is much one should be upset with when it comes to the actual audio mix herein discussed.


In addition to a lengthy phone call by Amos Gitai (in French only) titled "Amos Gitai's Presentation at the Monpellier Festival" and short fragment from the opening scene's preparation there is a great interview on this disc in English with Hana Laslo, Hiam Abbass, and Nathalie Portman in which they share their thoughts on the film, Gitai's direction, the message of the film, and what it meant for them to work together.

Final Thoughts:

Quite some time ago I made my displeasure with this film well known stating that it was arguably the worst production to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year. I have not changed my opinion! While the cast is impressive and the director's intentions ambitious the final product is disappointing!!






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