Credit: Piero Usberti/Andolfi
by Zachary Goldkind Featured Film

Voyage à Gaza — Piero Usberti [Cinéma du Réel ’24 Review]

April 3, 2024

“The word ‘Gaza’ means ‘pride’” is a statement softly uttered by Piero Usberti, whose gaze will define our capacity to witness in his feature travelogue-cum-poetic documentary, Voyage à Gaza. The complications of pride are inconclusively distilled throughout the short runtime of this project, as the sentiment of pride, as displayed through Usberti’s camera, comes enmeshed in discourse: one of despair and struggle, where both subject (the many Gazans whose silhouette against a setting sun lingers as a faculty of landscape) and observer (Usberti, of course, but us, too, the spectators) seek to commingle in apprehensive appreciation of the beauty that surrounds them. Usberti’s own attitude, as explicated in the final lines of narration, indicates a vacuum of nostalgia, a cinematic image of this beauty so often dissected from the history it extends from. Throughout the montage of his work, Usberti attempts to reconcile with these motivations that are reflexively aware of their fraught conditions, recognizing the complex of representation and its further problematization when discerned through his own positionality. And so this document becomes one constantly searching for an evasive answer, where serenity under the setting sun is eclipsed by occupation accentuated whenever these conditions of coloniality lay themselves bare. In short, Voyage à Gaza, while respectfully intrigued by the stories and experience of many young Gazans moving through the social circles of those Usberti has access to, remains caught in between states of documentation, unsure what the footage means, can do, or has use for. It’s a film that projects itself as its own specter.

Usberti is filming in 2018, amongst the Great March of Return, where weeks of peaceful protests — confronting the apartheid policy of a buffer zone along the Gaza wall blockade, where only Palestinians are not allowed to approach — are met with hundreds of dead and thousands of injured, Israeli soldiers firing brazenly at civilians with illegal bioweapons and live sniper ammunition. Moving throughout the strip, we glean short insights into an ideological perception of Gaza from its youth, one often based on an atheistic nationalism that articulates itself via a history of revolutionary theory and praxis. It should be noted that Usberti’s sporadic historical recollection is unfortunately thin in factual assertion. His simplistic account of the political processes behind the Nakba, the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the 2005 disengagement (which would lead to the 2007 blockade), is shortsightedly framed as peripheral context to contemporary circumstances. This elision plays into the agitated and amorphous character of the film as a whole, where the politics of occupation and colonialism become experiential, à la any given travelogue one might find. An elongated sequence near the end of the film, where an interview is conducted between two young Palestinian women (Sara and Jumana) and two young Palestinian men whose names aren’t mentioned, highlights this general air the film operates upon. They discuss aspirations, propaganda, the projections that orientalize and dehumanize their existences. It becomes a conversation about unknowingness, stifled mobility, and holding both despair and hope clenched in a single fist. This interview breaks down the film, with Usberti not having any role but cameraman: his poetics halt in order to convene with the dimensions of history as they unfold in the subjective plight that is Palestinian autonomy.

Incisively displayed is a focus on Gaza’s environment, prefaced with a necessarily critical eye on Zionism’s catchphrase, “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Extending from this ahistoric concept is one that also imagines Palestine as barren, as uncultivated by the indigenous populations prior to Israeli statehood. Usberti’s gaze is taken by the blooming gardens in the yards of various homes, transfixed even by northern farmlands, where crops of fresh strawberries are indulged in by parties who travel up to partake in their natural sweetness. It’s impossible not to see these images, so immediately refuting the Israeli propaganda that enables this current genocide we all witness, and not harden with rage and despondency. Israeli artillery and illegal chemical weaponry raze this land and render it inhospitable for cultivation. In understanding the current assault ongoing in the north of Gaza, where these strawberry fields once flourished, one bears witness to ecocide, to a campaign dead-set on self-destruction in the name of supremacy: the Israeli colonial project as a negation of history, of the self, and of the plurality that beckons culture and futurity. In 2024, Usberti’s voyage through Gaza is one of incommensurable images, weighed down by the destruction we now know replaces each structure from which the laughter of people emanates, where the secrets and aspirations of many are divulged in dialogue. This film’s edit was completed in September 2023, the film more readily functioning as the echo each formal choice begs us to imagine it as. But what do we do with an echo? Do we allow it to just pass us by, letting the tingle of its sonic waves course across us like the tide rolling on the sands of its beaches?

Published as part of Cinéma du Réel 2024.