POV: This Way Up

“I don’t care about politics. I’m going to get oranges.” As framed by one of the Palestinian Christian residents at the Catholic–run Our Lady of Sorrows Nursing Home in East Jerusalem, daily life is a matter of routine and survival. She likes to walk, to chat with store clerks, to look out at the city from the hilltop. And yet, increasingly, everywhere she looks, she sees the Wall, “politics” in the most disturbing sense.

The Wall is pervasive as well in This Way Up, Georgi Lazarevski’s superb documentary about the effects of politics on everyday lives. Originally titled Le jardin de Jad, the film returns again and again to one of the home’s residents, Jad, making his way from one spot to another, finding small pleasures in the scents of trees and occasional conversation with his neighbors. Sad-eyed and spry, Jad observes contractors and guards as they go through their motions, barbed wire in the background, guns hanging at their sides. As bulldozers move earth and men erect slabs of concrete, the Wall — winding through the West Bank and ordained by the Israeli government — looks misshapen from any number of angles. As it grows taller, the view from Our Lady of Sorrows is more and more obscured.

Smoking one cigarette after another as he walks and watches, Jad also spots various travelers making their way through gaps or over slow spots in the Wall, using ladders left by others for just such illicit purposes. The Wall, such activities suggest, is an emblem of increasing restriction, an impediment to routines. Some residents worry that relatives will soon be unable to visit, as they will need authorization to cross from one side to the other. Some residents complain of the noise and the obstructed views. And still others retreat, into their rooms and into themselves.

“The situation is at a dead end, we can’t breathe,” says a woman who cooks for residents at Out Lady of Sorrows (Notre Dame des Douleurs). “I want to leave this country. Everyone’s tired of this situation, not just me.” She turns to a younger man, Raed, who also works at the home. After some time away, he says, he returned to the West Bank, just after the Wall’s construction started: “When I came back here, it was as if I were going to jail, surrounded by walls. People who stayed here got used to it, but those who’ve left and came back got quite a shock.” That shock, Raed continues, has lasting effect. “Life has lost its taste. You work, you eat and you sleep, nothing more. This is our life.” At this point, he can’t even imagine getting married or raising a family: “It wouldn’t be fair to impose this life on children,” he says.

Inside the home, an elderly man in a wheelchair offers his analysis of what’s not “fair.” Watching Condoleezza Rice and George Bush on television, he scoffs at the “birth of the Palestinian state,” they have announced. “Shame on you, Bush,” he says sadly. “You’re supposed to lead world politics, just because your country is big.” He goes on, speaking in English, “I wish I could answer them for everything they say, I wish I could do it. The camera pushes close to his face. “They don’t listen to me [but] I have answer for every sentence they say.” Seeing inevitable trouble in the disjointed bits of land that are supposed to make up the “state,” the old man mourns the loss of his youth (“Nowadays we are forced to endure life, to accept it and its inconveniences”).

And yet, as infuriated as the TV news makes him, the old man is even more upset when an aide changes the channel so a group of ladies in the room can watch music videos. As the camera pulls out from the TV screen, music blaring and bodies gyrating, the old man asks to go outside. Slumped in his wheelchair, head in his hands, he sits alone, pondering.

Such sequences make up the essential structure of This Way Up (a title taken from the tag on a chunk of wall, installed upside down). While the frame may be tight or distant on Jad or any of the other residents at Our Lady of Sorrows, the editing helps to punctuate or suggest their feelings. Ladies in the home compete over who might sing or who “torments” the others (one especially poignant lyric describes a lost romance and the hope that “The Lord will make the wind turn and my lover shall return”). One sequence features one of the women with a yellow balloon, making her way down the long, shadowy corridor, batting at it.

Another woman speaks in close-up, shafts of sunlight over her wide face. “Sun is good for the body and it opens one’s mind,” she smiles, then asks her interviewer, “Have you seen the Wall? My son says relations are improving.” She worries, “The only thing they care about is protecting themselves,” then lays out the problem of violent cycles, however inadvertently: “If my son had been killed, what would I have done? I would destroy the world.”

And yet this flash of darkness is soon over, as she delights in her son’s visit. He comes bearing tobacco and her favorite perfume. Though he disapproves of her smoking, because she can’t hold the cigarette to her own lips, he holds it for her. She smiles and smiles, puffing, her face reflecting years of happiness and grief, frustration and expectation. Politics is unavoidable, but it is not all.

RATING 9 / 10