*/**** Image C- Sound B Extras F
starring Natalie Portman, Hanna Laslo, Hiam Abbass
written and directed by Amos Gitai
THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS
*½/**** Image A- Sound B+
starring Sarah Polley, Tim Robbins, Javier Cámara, Julie Christie
written and directed by Isabel Coixet
by Walter Chaw The not-at-all-hamfisted allegory of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman trekking across the disputed land to find an American who will settle some non-specific debt, Amos Gitai's tediously strident Free Zone opens with ten minutes, uninterrupted, of Natalie Portman weeping over what we discover to be the end of a love affair. It's showy and about as subtle as a kidney-punch--ditto the conception of Portman's passive Rebecca (Portman), the American on the sidelines, a matinee-beautiful beacon who stands by as impassively as Milton's God. That said, the device of a long, car-bound road trip narrated by flashbacks of the protagonists' separate journeys to this journey is, at least for a while, intoxicating. The problem--and it's a doozy--is that Gitai's picture is so blatant an allegory that nothing any of the characters say comes free of dramatic distance or irony, making it impossible to take the film seriously as anything other than ventriloquism for Gitai's, let's face it, unsurprising politics. Nothing wrong with Wailing Wall lamentations about the state of the world, but watching someone shake a fist at a dead horse, long past the hope of resurrection, for upwards of two hours, is tiring and futile. Is there traction in proposing that the film merely mirrors the hopelessness of the Middle East conflict? I guess, but then how many people--specifically, how many people renting a film called Free Zone directed by Amos Gitai--are going to feel edified by that?