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BY TRAV S.D. | “Room 514” is a laudable attempt by first time writer/director Sharon Bar-Ziv to talk about the complexities of the unsolvable tangle of the Israel-Palestine crisis.
Anna (Asia Naifeld) is a deceptively pretty interrogator for Israeli military police who has taken it upon herself to investigate claims that patrolling soldiers abused a Palestinian family. Her relentless pursuit of answers takes her up the food chain from a low-level sergeant (Guy Kapul), to the commander of a special unit (Udi Persi), to a General Major (Rafi Kalmar). Every step of the way she is being pressured by her own superior officer (Ohad Hall) to close the file on the investigation, which of course only strengthens her resolve to continue.
There are plenty of interesting elements here. Anna and her supervisor are lovers, and he’s about to get married — adding nice cross currents to the dynamic. The fact that she is a woman adds another layer of tension beyond that caused by the Palestine question. Each man she deals with treats her with an arrogance they would never show to a male inquisitor in the same situation.
Anna must use every arrow in her quiver to throw them. When intimidation doesn’t work, she uses feminine tactics.
There are many challenges here for the actors to tackle, and I don’t really see any missteps from them (although a couple of them seem too young for their roles). Especially well written are some of the impassioned speeches the soldiers make in their own defense, which shows a largeness of spirit on the part of Bar-Ziv since his point of view is obviously closer to Anna’s.
The main problem with the film is that there’s too little on the screen. As a defender (and even an advocate) of low-budget cinema, this may be the first time I have ever had this particular problem with a film.
“Room 514” feels like it really wants to be a play. As the title implies, almost all of it takes place within the elevator-sized interrogation Room 514, which is barely large enough to contain a desk, a filing cabinet and two chairs. If the entire movie had been set there, there might have been some justification (it might have been seen as a gimmick, a challenge on the part of the filmmaker).
But there are also several scenes staged on a bus, which makes it seem less an artistic choice than an economic one. Particularly worrisome were scenes where the interrogated officers enter the room, armed, and hand their weapons over to her. Surely they have some better procedure for this? Something outside the room. But the camera doesn’t lie, and we can’t help but have a strong sense that there is nothing outside that room. How can there be war out there if there isn’t even an outer office?
Written & Directed by Sharon Bar-Ziv
In Hebrew & Russian with English subtitles
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Sat. 4/21, 7pm & Thurs. 4/26, 3pm at AMC Loews Village. Sun. 4/22, 9:45pm at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.