Friday, 23 October 2015

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)

Højde 24 Svarer Ikke
Hurrah, this is movie number 300 for me! And somehow it is quite fitting that this should be the first Israeli film on the List. Why? Well, that happens to be the place I live these days and so I have been very curious to find out what this old film would be like. A special treat, if you like.

I am not Israeli and not even Jewish (though my wife is) so I do not have the same personal connection to this film as I have to Danish movies and that is probably a good thing. In this corner of the world everything is political, and politics has a nasty slant here in directions considered unsavory in most other parts of the world. In my personal opinion religion and nationalism has an uncanny ability to screw with people’s minds and the combination of the two is a real disconnect from reality.

It is not because I have some sudden urge to declare my position, but because those are the themes of “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer”. It is very much about the Israeli narrative on its origin, how it was born out of a struggle for survival as a refuge for a hunted people. That gives it both a nationalistic and, incidentally, a religious slant. As an outside observer it is difficult not to see this as a propaganda piece, but is seems intended inward as a national narrative and so it tell us something about how the Israeli see themselves and their country. That makes it interesting even if you do not buy into the story itself.

The only copy I was able to find was a very poor version on YouTube. It had blurry pictures and poor sound and a lot of the experience was definitely lost, which is really too bad. As much of the movie is filmed on location the pictures themselves are interesting, but that was mostly lost. Also this version came with three sets of subtitles, one on top of the other, making them hard to follow. Thankfully most is in English and to my own surprise I was actually able to follow most of the Hebrew dialogue so I did not suffer too badly.

There is a main line is the story following four soldiers going out to defend a hill (Hill 24) outside of Jerusalem. On their way three of the soldiers tell the story of how they came to be there.

James Finnegan (Edward Mulhare) was an Irish soldier in the British army who after the war became a policeman under the British mandate in Haifa. Officially assigned to spy on the Jewish underground he falls in love with his mark, a Jewish girl called Miriam (Haya Harareet) and so after his discharge he returns to be with her and through her enroll in the proto-Israeli army. His reason for fighting is for her.

Allan Goodman (Michael Wager) was an American tourist (or journalist, I am not sure) who happened to be in the country at the time of independence and so enrolled almost by accident. He is Jewish, but his motivations are vague and when he gets injured he starts wondering, not unreasonably, what on Earth he is doing in this war. A rabbi tries to explain it through religious arguments and Allan, again quite reasonably, calls bullshit. Unfortunately (in my opinion) the rabbi manages to convert Allan to a believer and when he is evacuated from the old town of Jerusalem he is filled with religious zeal.

Finally David Airam (Arik Lavie) tells his story. This one confused me, but I guess the gist of is that earlier in the fighting he was battling some Egyptians in the Negev and ends up in a one-on-one with an Egyptian soldier who turns out to be German and not just that, but a heart and mind Nazi, not yet finished killing Jews. I suppose that means that he is fighting against that undefined external enemy that is always out to kill the Jew.

And there we have it. The three soldiers come from all over the world to fight this war for their loved ones, for national religious reasons and to protect themselves from the ever present external enemy. That is exactly the national narrative. There is also a woman in the group, but we do not get her story, expect that she is a local. Her role is partly to show that women were also fighting this war (something you are constantly reminded of when you see teenage girls with big guns over their shoulder) and to be the rooting in the land when she is found on the hill holding a flag in her hand.

The four soldiers die on the hill holding it against attack, but their presence secures the hill as Israeli territory and so the land was bought with their blood, which again fits the narrative.

This is not a movie that tries to explain the conflict and it is certainly not taking a helicopter view of the different parties, but that is not its objective either. Where the movie is best it is trying to explain what makes these people, and thus most people who took part in it on the Israeli side, fight this war.

Although the opposition is largely ignored there are a number of scenes that offer food for thought. There are the boats landing on the beach with worn out refugee flooding into the country. That picture carries an uncanny resemblance to present day Syrian refugees landing on the Greek Islands or swarming over the Hungarian borders. The British are mounting a futile attempt at stopping them as the EU tries today but they are overwhelmed. Meanwhile the locals are increasingly upset with the newcomers and many wows to kick them out as the Arab explains to Allan Goodman at the hotel pool. There is an insight there into some fundamental problems that may have been largely ignored by a viewer at the time, especially one belonging to the target group, but 60 years down the line we are, well most people are, more aware the fundamental problems of migration.

Well, I can talk for hours on the issue, but that has little to do with the movie. Suffice to say that I belong to the “work it out” camp rather than the “I am right and you are an idiot” camp dominating this particular conflict.

There is sad moment near the end of the movie where the narrator proclaims that peace have been brought to Jerusalem. How I wish that was the case. On Monday I am going to Jerusalem for a three day conference and my wife is urging me not to go because it is not really safe. So much for peace in Jerusalem.


  1. I'm with your wife. Take good care of yourself and avoid crowds. I can't comment on the movie.

    1. I am following the news closely and will make a final decision on Sunday. It should be a safe place but that sounds terribly like Famous Last Words.

  2. This movie didn't do much for me since it was a foregone conclusion what was going to happen to all of them. Because of that I didn't get too involved in any of their stories. The one I was actually the most interested in was the woman's but she got short shrift when it came to fleshing out her character.

    There are more Israeli films on the list (or at least ones involving and/or set in Israel) but I don't think you'll come across them for a long time. Three I can think of are all in the 2000-2005 range.

    1. Yes, I too was disappionted with the space Esther was given. In a way she is the most interesting of the characters. I liked the backstory on the other three though, it is an interesting element to the story. My parents in law are currently trying to track down a better version of the movie and I will let you know if they find one for you list of how to find difficult movies.