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Beyond Unbelief: Bibi’s Speech and Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle

June 16th, 2009by Haim Watzman · 15 Comments · Culture and Ideas, Politics and Policy

Haim Watzman

Sometimes a mediocre film puts everything in perspective. When the lights went down in the Cinematheque last night I was in the middle of discussion with my companion (full disclosure: I’m married to her) how to parse Bibi’s two-state speech. One position (not mine) was that the prime minister had offered an honest and sincere statement of both Israel’s willingness to compromise for peace, whereas the other position (not hers) was that Bibi was just paying lip service to President Obama’s peace initiative and had no real intention of making any progress with the Palestinians.

The film was Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle (Anything For Her), a thriller that calls for a willing suspension of more beliefs than does Christopher Hitchens writing about God.

Lisa and Julien are happily in love and have a cute little boy named Oscar. Lisa is arrested and convicted of a murder she did not commit. When all legal recourses are exhausted and Lisa turns suicidal, Julien, who teaches French in a high school, decides to free his wife by force. He consults with a former prisoner who has written a book about his many prison breaks (for a guy on the lam, the guy is startlingly easy to locate and oddly willing to speak freely to a total stranger). Then he carefully concocts a plan, scrawled all over the wall of his study at home, to grab Lisa when she’s being taken to the hospital because of her diabetes and abscond with her and Oscar to El Salvador.

Like all protagonists of this genre, bookish Julien displays a truly awesome talent for landing a left hook and shooting straight at a target, without any training or practice. To get fake papers, he does deals with Parisian lowlifes, and to obtain enough cash to support his family for two years in exile, he robs and shoots two drug dealers. In the process he leaves behind enough fingerprints, hairs, pieces of his car, and witnesses to fill an entire season of CSI scripts.

Of course, in a daring crime like this, anything can go wrong. In Julien’s case, nearly everything does go wrong. He ends up going much farther than he intended to go. His brother and father get wind of the plan, his robbery turns into a murder, the police quickly figure out that Julien is the culprit and that he’s trying to spring his wife, and Lisa wastes precious moments when she, at first, refuses to go along. Fortunately for Julien, although somewhat painfully for my brain’s mechanism for distinguishing between the highly unlikely and the laughably unlikely, everything goes wrong about five seconds too late for them to be apprehended. They make it to El Salvador, and the family is reunited, although there’s the small problem that one of its members is now a real killer and that Interpol is hot on his heels.

So what’s that have to do with Bibi’s speech? Bibi is also seeking to suspend our disbelief and make us accept what is almost certainly a fiction—that he really intends to pursue a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. He’s concocted a complicated plan to stay friends with the U.S. while continuing to add housing units to settlements and condone the construction of ever more outposts in the West Bank. Anything could go wrong.

But, I have to admit, there’s a small chance that everything will go right. It’s just possible that Bibi’s strategy will unite the Israeli public behind a real peace initiative and create a dynamic that will take him much farther than he intends to go. After all, sometimes leaders act with courage and foresight by mistake. Gorbachev, after all, thought that glasnost would shore up rather than dissolve the Communist regime.

This may not be the film I’d like to see, but it’s the only one playing right now. Let’s hope that Anything for Obama is a real action—as opposed to non-action—movie.

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