Prominent Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar documents how Dr Raz Somech, an Israeli pediatrician and Raida, a Palestinian mother, struggle to get treatment for her baby, Muhammad Abu Mustaffa, who suffers from an incurable genetic disease. Each must face their most profound biases as they inch towards a possible friendship in an impossible reality.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The best of man and the worst of man - side by side and face to face. Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar provides the narration over his own footage, almost like a DVD commentary, adding a sense of real-time drama to the film, as we see through his eyes - or through his camera, to be precise. And what we see is one of those stories about the human condition that gives us both hope and reason for despair.
The fight is for a baby's life; he's from Gaza, the third child to be born to the same family with a deadly immune system deficiency. The first two died. There are three other siblings who are healthy. But the bone marrow transplant costs $55,000 - and (for reasons we are not informed) no-one at the hospital is allowed to volunteer for operations. Eldar is asked to help the only way he can: record the story and have it go to air on the TV news.
His early footage elicits an anonymous donation to cover the cost - an Israeli, which confounds the mother, Raida. "The Jews do such strange to us," she says, but she's grateful. Ironically, it's easier to find a donor for the cash than for the bone marrow, which has to be as close a match as possible, and none of the family are suitable.
The primary criteria on which such a film can be assessed is whether it tells a story that has meaning and interest for us, and how well it does that. There is no question that it satisfies both criteria, and does something more, perhaps even more valuable. The story poses ethical, moral and political questions for the viewer, entirely unforced, and leaves us with a deeper understanding of the Israel-Palestine impasse. And beneath the despair, there lies a faint glimpse of hope; there are individuals on both sides who are capable of making a difference - for the better.
But in one of the film's most riveting scenes, the Israeli filmmaker and the Arab mother have a conversation that turns to Jerusalem, religion and death. For the Israeli, life is precious; for the mother who is fighting for her baby's life, life is not precious. She would be happy if her son grew up to be a suicide bomber, a martyr.
In a few short minutes all our rational and sensible views are shattered by the abyss that separates the mindset of these two people, representing the great divide that hangs over us all: irreconcilable world views, fuelled by religious differences. Nowhere is Christopher Hitchens' famous point more relevant: 'Religion spoils everything.'
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PRECIOUS LIFE (PG)
PRODUCER: Ehud Bleiberg, Yoav Ze'evi
DIRECTOR: Shlomi Eldar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shlomi Eldar
EDITOR: Dror Reshef
MUSIC: Yehudi Poliker
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Ent
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: July 21, 2011;