Simone Bitton's documentary Wall begins with an audience-grabbing interview, then immediately threatens to let that audience go for good, as Bitton settles into a series of long, meditative shots of a wall being built. The wall in question runs through Israel for more than 500 kilometers, separating Palestinians from Jews, and Bitton shows a section being assembled one prefab concrete partition at a time, silently observing as it gradually blocks the view of a hillside settlement. Throughout Wall, Bitton returns to different parts of the wall, filming the sections that have been rigged up with cameras and radar, the sections that have been painted with murals, and the sections that are so loosely guarded that Palestinians just jump over on their way to work.
Bitton makes a purposeful but questionable choice to make her movie about the barrier, more than the people it divides. Her primary interview subject is a chilly Israeli general who boasts about how the wall keeps terrorists and thieves outas well as Palestinians who are neitherand who shrugs off complaints that the partition harms the environment on the Palestinian side, saying, "We see both sides as ours." Most of Bitton's other interview subjects are kept off-camera, and she uses their anxieties over the Israeli conflict as a soundtrack to accompany long takes of the wall and its environs. She returns repeatedly to the wall-building process itself, hanging out with the Arab construction workers who the Israeli government hired to erect their own prison.
But while Bitton engages in some penetrating conversations, and shoots some artful video footage, Wall never really tops its first scene, which pans across a particularly colorful section while Bitton chats with two Jewish boys. The children discuss Bitton's ethnicity, deciding that she must be Jewish because of her accent and facial features. (She's actually half-Arab and half-Jewish, which turns out to be true of one of the boys as well.) The kids then bicker about the purpose of the wall, with one saying, "They shoot at Arabs from the wall," and the other saying, "No, the Arabs shoot at us, so we hide behind the wall." Then Bitton asks them what was here before the wall, and one answers, "I don't know." That whole exchange takes about five minutes, and says everything Bitton reiterates over the next hour and a half.Noel Murray