Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 7:30
Promised Lands

Promised Lands
Susan Sontag, 16mm, 1974, 87 mins

Susan Sontag’s third directorial effort and her only documentary, Promised Lands scrutinizes the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the growing divisions, within the region’s Jewish thought, over the question of Palestinian sovereignty. Shot in Israel during the final days and immediate aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Promised Lands is undoubtedly one of Sontag’s most incisive examinations of contemporary Jewish consciousness, and she considered it her most personal film.

Sontag structures the work as an antiphony between two sets of images. The first consists of observational sequences detailing moments from modern Israel: desert landscapes, patrols of roadside soldiers, old men and women at the Wailing Wall, grocery stores and movie theaters, the Jerusalem War Cemetery, a military psychiatric ward, and a wax museum depicting the official history of the state. Intercut throughout are conversations with two intellectuals: writer Yoram Kaniuk, a supporter of Palestinian rights who sees Israel shifting from its socialist roots to an American-style commercial culture, and physicist Yuval Ne’eman, who argues for the endemic nature of anti-Semitism. Though the film grants no direct access to Arab or Palestinian voices, its clear elaboration of the debate prompted Israeli censors to ban its initial release, claiming it would be "damaging to the country’s morale." Stateside, Stanley Kaufman praised the film’s dialectical quality, writing that it presents “not a struggle between truth and falsehood but between two opposing, partial truths.”

A Film Desk release.