A Film a Week - 1948 - Remember, Remember Not

 previously published on Cineuropa

There is probably no country in the world with a completely spotless history, and yet there is no country in the world that does not try to present its history as being as spotless as possible. Nations are usually forged in wars and revolutions, and their official narratives are based on stories of glorious battles and heroic resistance, while the less savoury acts on the margins of those are usually left out. Maybe the word we are looking for here is ethos, defined as “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature or guiding beliefs of a nation, race, group” by Neta Shoshani in her newest and most complex documentary, 1948 – Remember, Remember Not, which has just premiered in the Israeli Competition of Docaviv. With it, the filmmaker jumps straight to the core of the Israeli ethos, to the titular year, the war(s) that were happening then and the narratives formed around the events by both the regular participants and the decision makers on different sides of the conflict.

The documentary functions as a singular work, but it is divided into two parts. It is based on letters and diary entries illustrated by rare archive material, with graphic interventions that provide a historical context on a larger scale. However, multiple lines of division can be observed in Shoshani’s documentary: one between the different sides in the conflict, one between the past and the present, one between the events taking place before and after the end of the British Mandate (15 May 1948), and the main one – what is to be remembered from the war the country emerged from and what is not.

The first part, titled Remember, deals mainly with the events from the period before the withdrawal of the British soldiers, in the last few months of 1947 and the first half of 1948, with more of a focus on the actual events on the front lines and with a “repercussion” in the present in the form of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) missing persons unit’s search for the remains of the soldiers who died in battles in the aforementioned period of time. The second part, Remember Not, mainly deals with the stage of the war when it became international, after the intervention of the armies of the five Arab League nations, and the UN’s attempts to mediate in the conflict through its representative Count Folke Bernadotte, with a focus on larger-scale historical events. Its counterpart in the present are the attempts of a group of lawyers to declassify the controversial Shapira Report (made by then-Attorney General Yaakov Shapira regarding the accusations that IDF fighters harmed civilians in the latter period of the conflict, and classified ever since) and the filmmaker’s interviews with government officials who oppose it because revealing it could harm the very “ethos” of Israel.

The written and video material that Shoshani relies on is simply stunning in its sheer emotional power. It is also finely blended with the newly filmed material (lensed by Itay Raziel) and with the graphics that prove to be invaluable for the foreign viewer, while the subtle score by Asher Goldshmit also suits the film well. 1948 – Remember, Remember Not is a very informative and detailed documentary on a historical topic, but its 150-minute running time could prove to be a tad too much for a viewer who is not completely invested in the topic, and some of the information and attitudes stated in it might feel a bit repetitive, so a tighter, shorter cut could prove to be more enticing for international audiences.

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