Hot Docs Day 8: The Law in These Parts

The Law in These Parts
(Israel, 101 min.)
Dir. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
Photo credit: Shark De Mayo
Perhaps the most frustrating film I’ve seen at Hot Docs this year, The Law in These Parts is a ballsy, handsomely made him that questions the rule of law and those who write it. The film features interviews with a handful of Israeli lawmakers who wrote, adapted, and enforced the law in the occupied territories of the Gaza strip since 1967. The film questions the authority of law and interrogates the inequity of the lawmakers’ decisions. The Law in These Parts is frequently powerful in its argument of how inhabitants of the Occupied Territories were subjected to laws made by people they did not elect. Moreover, with its close-up interviews, the film seizes the human element that was ignored by the lawmakers’ decisions by capturing split-seconds of lingering doubt on their faces as they twitch upon revisiting their past or freeze-up and/or stonewall the filmmaker. With an objective so important and an approach so provocative, it’s no wonder that The Law in These Parts was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema category for documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival

On the other hand, it occasionally proves difficult to follow the trajectory of the film’s argument. The film provides some context, but it might prove insufficient for viewers with scant knowledge of the politics and details of this complex situation. The film perhaps covers too many aspects of the situation and raises too many questions, which makes the overall thesis of the film a bit murky. Most obtrusive is how often director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz incorporates the construction of the filmmaking process into his narration. He opens the film by debating and defining words like “documentary” and “reality”, and returns to such musings on occasion.

The self-reflexive techniques at first serve as a convenient tool with which Alexandrowicz challenges master narratives and the authority of these lawmakers; however, the director reminds the audience too frequently that they are watching a film and the device often has the effect of distancing the viewer and making one see the situation more as a narrative than as a real story that had profound effects on generations of people. Additionally, Alexandrowicz inadvertently uses the technique to substitute himself as the authoritative voice on the matter, thus negating his challenge to the subjects’ abuse of power; moreover, his voiceover at the ending is far too condescending to the viewer. He suggests that people will simply walk out of the film with little desire to reflect upon it and merely move on to something else. If that is the effect he was hoping for, it might be achieved. This story however, deserves a better end-note than a back-handed slap at the audience.

Rating: (out of ★★★★★)
The Law in These Parts screens again Saturday, May 5th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 4:15.

For more info on films, show times, and tickets, please visit hotdocs.ca