Credit: Idan Haguel/Guy Sahaf
Before We Vanish by Zachary Goldkind Featured Film

Concerned Citizen — Idan Haguel

June 3, 2023

Detrimental is the perspective mired in solipsism, where the world that surrounds a character exists only to serve their compulsions. What is disclosed through this process, more often than not, is a subjectivity lacking in discourse, where a filmmaker has failed to intervene in their character and unintentionally reaffirms the ignorances of this worldview via their own. Such is the case with Israeli director Idan Haguel’s sophomore effort, Concerned Citizen, a dispirited fable that spirals into mere conjecture. Such troubled perspective only derives from a failed schema, wherein secondary characters are positioned either as pawns with no discernible interiority or plot beats serving only to contextualize our protagonist — here, Ben (Shlomi Bertonov). He leads a life that is, empirically, quite pleasant. He lives in a refurbished apartment alongside his partner, and the two are looking to start a family and put down roots. As a way to emphasize this sentiment, the opening scene sees Ben plant a tree within spitting distance from his balcony, ensuring it can be surveilled throughout its maturation. This tree is not only a symbol of his ideals, but also a signifier of the desired gentrification of the neighborhood, a part of town all the white settlers — Ben and his partner included — continue to promise is “on the up and up.” But on one quiet night, as two boys are innocuously lounging around, leaning up against this young and pliant tree, Ben asks that they be careful — noting that it’s a newly planted tree, and that they need to responsibly upkeep the area — and simultaneously calls the city, who send in cops, inevitably leading to murder. Unfurling from this point are the conventions of guilt, the tropes of emotional volatility, and a general apathy toward the communities who must face this violence each and every day, as our white protagonist and his ilk look passively on, seeing only spectacle in the lives of those accosted simply for puttering their time away on the sidewalk.

To go into much more detail about the plot specifics isn’t necessary, as it’s made of the anticipated frictions and externalized conflicts that come easily to the imagination: interpersonal troubles, loss of emotional control, outbursts, seething angers, etc. It’s a broad perspective that’s tackled, but one so stubbornly tethered to Ben that there’s little left to parse that isn’t myopic or reductive. Haguel has no interest in social dynamics, as exemplified by the act of violence which incites his film. This thesis stems from the film’s climax, where Ben is given the chance to repeat his offenses. Two young men are once again idling by the tree, and without hesitation Ben calls the city, but this time demands that cops be sent. With their arrival and consequent harassment of the two, Ben runs out of his apartment, confronting the cop and angrily inquiring why he’s disturbing the men. The situation eventually calms down and Ben returns home, rejuvenated and empowered by his dispelling of guilt. One assumes Haguel knows that Ben would have to be both idiotic and parasitic to even attempt this, yet even if there were reflexivity contained within this intent, what exactly is being observed and articulated? That people who cannot live with their contradictions will narrativize their psychology until it proffers peace? This has been seen before, in many iterations on both television and the big screen, without appropriating the systemic racism within an active and ongoing settler colonial project and without ignoring, sidelining, or marginalizing the role violence plays in a society such as Israel. This is a film, then, that takes the violent immediacy of ethnonationalist supremacy and churns it for personal, exploitative use. It reduces victims to a position of anonymity in service of abstracting the brutality that affects them into a narrow thought experiment. It’s grotesque and useless.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 22.