Brief Lives, Violently Extinguished

‘Tears of Gaza,’ a Documentary of Human Misery

NYT Critics’ Pick

Rhizome Intermedia

A scene from the documentary “Tears of Gaza.”

By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Published: September 18, 2012

A brutally uncompromising blast of outrage, Vibeke Lokkeberg’s“Tears of Gaza” is less a documentary than a collage of suffering. Dropping us smack in the middle of the Israeli attacks on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the film tramples politics beneath the raw weight of civilian testimony. Woven together, these monologues of bereavement and confusion, illustrated with images so terrible they repel rational explanation, form a tapestry of human misery that’s impossible to shake off.

Using extraordinary footage shot by several Palestinian photographers, Ms. Lokkeberg (a Norwegian who was refused access to Gaza) spotlights the extreme deprivation of life under a blockade and the physical and psychological wounds of war. A sickeningly beautiful rain of nighttime missiles is followed by wrenching shots of suffocated infants being hauled from pulverized homes. Tiny, broken bodies — some seemingly fired on at point-blank range — blanket the film, often in excruciating close-up. Postcarnage interviews allow the stunned reactions of three surviving children to shape a quiet meditation on lives irretrievably altered.

Unwaveringly committed to a method that spits on context, “Tears of Gaza” forces us to ask a single, electric question: Amid this much horror, does context even matter?

Tears of Gaza

Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Vibeke Lokkeberg; directors of photography, Yosuf Abu Shreah, Mwafaq al Khateeb and Saed al Sabaa; edited by Torkel Gjorv, Anwar Saab and Svein Olav Sandem; music by Marcello De Francisci and Lisa Gerrard; produced by Terje Kristiansen. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. In Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. This film is not rated.

A version of this review appeared in print on September 19, 2012, on page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: Brief Lives, Violently Extinguished.