Free Zone (2005)
Director: Amos Gitai.
Starring: Natalie Portman (Rebecca), Hana Laszlo (Hanna Ben Moshe), Hiam Abbass (Leila), Carmen Maura (Mrs. Breitberg), Makram Khoury (Samir aka "The American"), Aki Avni (Julio), Uri Klauzner (Moshe Ben Moshe), Liron Levo (Border Security), Tomer Russo (Border Security), Adnan Tarabshi (Petrol Station Owner), Shredi Jabarin (Walid).
two women, an American and an Israeli cab driver, drive into Jordan in order to retrieve money owed to the cab driver Hanna by a business partner; they are joined by a Palestinian woman, who is part of the family of the business partner, known as the American; they don't really discuss the Israel-Palestine question, focusing more on the matters of the heart (except for the question of where is the money owed to Hanna?); they form an emotional bound between them
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
In a taxi the American Rebecca cries. And cries. And cries. And cries. She asks if they can go and leave this place? The taxi cab driver says where to? Rebecca doesn't know where. The female driver says that she has really serious family business to attend to in Jordan and her passenger can't go with her. Rebecca comments she has some really serious family business too. The driver asks doesn't she have some friends in Jerusalem? She says they are all "his" friends. Nor does she have any family here anymore. Rebecca says: "I have to get out of this country."
So the driver is going to take her on a long journey. Rebecca comments: "I'm ready." They soon reach the border and the driver tells her just answer their questions, but let her do all the real talking. Rebecca is to say that she is a tourist. They get through the checkpoint easily. with no problems. But around the bend they are stopped again. Two men ask them questions and look at their passports. The big problem for them is that they have a lot of baggage with them and they say that they didn't pack the bags themselves, but Rebecca's fiancÚ's mother did. So they are going to go through all the baggage. The driver is Israeli and she is a bit impatient with the guys. One of the guys comments that the passenger looks like a hooker. The driver tells the man to be polite. He tells her not to interfere in his conversations. Then one of them says that the driver no longer looks like her passport picture. She should have it updated. The driver tells them to be nice. As they drive to passport control, she says: "You see the chutzpah." (of the guards)
Now they have go show their passports to an official at a small window. At the Jordanian border they have no problem in getting through.
Flashback. Rebecca is with her fiancÚ. He talks about the future and she says: "Fuck the future!" Her fiancÚ holds her tightly. He talks about fighting in a certain village for three days. Rebecca asks if he killed anyone? He just tries to make a joke out of the question. He says everyone of his unit left. He had to stay behind and guard the weapons. It was just him and a peasant girl, a little heavy and 22 years of age. He says it was very hard for him to be there among all the dead bodies. The peasant girl made him hot soup. Then she let him sleep in her and her husband's bed. Rebecca asks if the girl was all over him? A little is the answer. She asks if he raped the girl and her fiancÚ says that he would hardly call what happened "rape". He stayed with the peasant girl for two nights. Then his unit pulled out altogether. Rebecca asks: "Did she have big tits?" Her fiancÚ just laughs. Softly she tells him: "I'm leaving you." He asks her to please give them a chance as a couple. She shakes her head no.
Back to the present. The driver tells Rebecca that they are completely lost. They stop to get gasoline. The owner of the place asks the two women if they want some coffee. The driver does not, but Rebecca does want some coffee and something to eat. The driver tells her she does not want her going with the owner. But Rebecca does walk to the building with the owner. The driver yells three times to catch Rebecca's attention, but she doesn't hear the driver. So the driver starts honking her horn.
Flashback. The driver is working at milking cows in a dairy. She hears a loud explosion and goes out to see what has happened. A car is on fire. And a partially burned man is on the ground. She runs to Moshe who she says is covered in blood. Moshe tells her that he has to go to the free zone to the Americans. He then tells Hanna that she has to pick up Mrs. Breitberg (Rebeca's prospective mother-in-law.) Hanna says the lady can wait. She goes to call for an ambulance. Moshe says Mrs. Breitberg is coming with Julio. She reaches the Rural Medical Center and she tells them to send an ambulance out to the Moshe Ben Moshe garage. Her husband is seriously hurt. The fellow on the line asks if it was an artillery shell or a rocket that injured Moshe?
Hanna picks up Mrs. Breitberg. The woman is from Spain so Hanna tries to communicate with her in her broken Spanish. Hanna says they are going to Jerusalem and the passenger says she booked a table at the Mishkenot Shaananim Hotel. Then Mrs. Breitberg says tomorrow she wants to go see various places. Hanna tells her she can't because tomorrow she is going to Jordan. So mother yells at her son Julio, telling him that she distinctly told him that she wanted a driver and a car for tomorrow. Mom now changes the subject and says to Julio that she met the daughter of his father's partner in business. She told the young lady all about her son's studies and that her son would call her. Mom now gives Julio her business card. Mom says the girl is fantastic, beautiful, friendly and, above all, Jewish.
Back to the present. Hanna places a call to a customer. She says that Moshe Ben Moshe will be a little late in picking her up. The woman complains that it's 3 p.m. and the Free Zone closes at 4 p.m. Moshe is coming. Now Hanna asks the woman to tell "the American" to wait for Moshe. That done both women start talking about the city they are now in. Hanna tells Rebecca to make sure that she doesn't mention that she is Jewish. Rebecca says: "I'm not Jewish." Her father is Israeli and her mother is American. She was brought up in Judaism, but when she came to Israel, they told her she wasn't Jewish. Hanna confirms that saying that if one's mother is not Jewish, then you are not Jewish.
Rebecca says she came to Israel because she didn't feel that she really belonged in the USA. But now, after being in Israel, she doesn't think she really belongs anywhere.
Hanna says she is very worried about Moshe. Then she tells Rebecca that they are coming near to the borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hanna is heading now for the Free Zone. After a bit more driving they reach the Free Zone. Hanna parks the van and goes in to speak with the woman known as Leila. Hanna says she spoke with Leila a little earlier about Moshe Ben Moshe being a little late. She adds that she has come to pick up the money. Hanna whispers to Rebecca to stay out of the conversation, because this is between her and Leila.
Hanna clearly tells Leila that she came here for business. She wants to see the American. Leila says that the American is ill. Hanna says Moshe is ill. They are both ill. But where is the American? Leila changes the subject to ask where is Rebecca from? New York. Hanna says she didn't come to have a National Geographic talk with Leila. So Leila asks Hanna where is she from? She is from Israel, but before that Auschwitz. Leila says she is from Palestine. Hanna tries to get back to business. Leila tells her to drink her tea. Hanna finally gets it out that she is here to collect the $30,000 dollars Leila owes her.
Hanna asks Rebecca to let her and Leila speak in private. Rebecca leaves the office A little later Hanna comes outside. Leila comes out to speak with Hanna. Hanna finally learns that the money is in the bank under the control of Walid, the American's son. And she doesn't know when Walid is coming back. Hanna says that the American is their partner and they want the money the partner owes them. Leila finally says that the American needs to be alone. They can only see him at his house. Leila says that Hanna can follow behind her car and she will take her to the American. Hanna asks Leila to take Rebecca in her car. Leila says okay.
Rebecca tells Leila not to be offended by Hanna's approach. Leila says that the woman was "almost impolite". They start talking about languages. Leila says that a lot of Palestinians speak Hebrew, but very few Jews speak Arabic. Maybe things would change if more Jews spoke Arabic.
Leila mentions that she can't see Hanna's car anymore. So she turns the car around to go find Hanna. She has a flat tire on the passenger rear side of the van. The two older women fix the car and take off to go see the American. There is a big fire in the road and a lot of loud voices of people running around with torches. A man named Samir comes to the window and tells Leila: "These fools set fire to the farm and the houses." He doesn't know where the American is. Samir gets into a serious argument with another man. Leila gets out of the car and tells Samir to calm down. The young fellow takes off running with his torch. Hanna drives up and Rebecca tells her to come and help Leila. But Hanna says she is afraid. She tells Rebecca to get into the car and they will get out of here.
Rebecca just runs back to Leila. Leila tells her that she couldn't save anything. Rebecca wants to know who did this? It was her husband Walid's doing. He doesn't like his father because he says father lives in the past and her husband doesn't like Leila either because of the woman she is. She tells Rebecca that it's good that her husband burned it all down. But she is going to rebuild it. And Samir will help her. She hugs Rebecca.
Rebecca returns to the van. Hanna starts to take a nap. Rebecca gets out of the van. In the morning Samir gives Rebecca a little historical tour of the place. Rebecca asks him if he is the "American"? He says yes, but really he is a Palestinian. They just send him to Houston, Texas, USA for awhile and when he came back he had an American passport.
Leila explains to Hanna that Walid had a argument with his father and burned up the place. He left with "your" money and crossed the border. Walid says that the money belongs to the people in the camps. So Leila wants to go with Hanna and Rebecca across the border to get Walid. Hanna agrees and now they drive around looking for Rebecca. They spot her on top of a ridge. When she sees the car she comes down to them. And off the three women go headed back to Israel.
On the radio the women hear that the border is closed in the Jordan Valley because of a terrorist threat. They reach a checkpoint and Hanna demands that Leila give her the money she owes her. Leila says she doesn't have it and Hanna insists that she does have it. Rebecca gets tired of their arguing, gets out of the car and starts racing down the road. The border guards have to run after her. It turns to night and the two women are still arguing in the car about the money.
According to the descriptions of the film, I thought this was going to be about three women, an American, an Israeli and a Palestinian, talking all about the Israel-Palestine question. But the movie isn't really about that. The women relate to each other on an emotional basis and talk about things that women usually talk about, and not about global politics. The film shows that the women can relate to each other, despite their coming from three different nations in some conflict with each other. People are people ultimately and care about and worry about similar things the world over. Of course, politics and history is in the film a bit, because people of three different nationalities are traveling from one nation to another at odds with each other. The underlying politics of the day are there, but more in a contextual background and don't always force themselves to the front of the three women's consciousnesses. The film is not so talky as written in the film descriptions, but there was a lot of talking. Hey, women like to talk. And talking with each other and getting to know each other often leads to the development of emotional bonds between people. And this is what happened in the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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