‘Ghost Hunting’ review: Berlin’s problematic best documentary winner

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Having already engaged in an exercise in filmed psychoanalysis that bares the soul with “Fix Me”, director Raed Andoni extends his outdated idea of ​​therapy to others in “Ghost Hunting”, an ethically problematic documentary in which Palestinian men recreate the circumstances of their incarceration and torture by the Israeli occupiers. Using the largely debunked idea that acting on his trauma is a means of catharsis, Andoni asks his various “actors” to verbally and physically abuse each other while he watches from the sidelines, trading the accusation of narcissism that accompanied his previous doc with that of sadism.

The accolades from Ken Loach and Mike Leigh before the premiere, the sensational emotional charge of the subject, as well as the award for best Berlin documentary mean that “Ghost Hunting” will attract far more attention than it deserves. The concept must have sounded impactful and original on paper, given the number of respected funding bodies – Doha, Sundance, Sanad, Venice’s Final Cut, etc. – who have embarked on the project.

Andoni placed an ad in a newspaper looking for participants who had been imprisoned by the Israelis. After the casting call, they would help build a mock-up of the notorious Al-Moskobiya interrogation center, then be assigned the roles of prisoner or executioner. The director himself had been detained there when he was 18, so in an effort to exorcise some of those demons, he devised this project to “help” others deal with issues such as detention. , impotence, violence and occupation in general.

On a superficial level, the film confronts the psychological toll of Israeli apartheid in a seemingly hard-hitting way – which might explain the initial wave of positive reactions. However, what is Andoni really doing other than deliberately orchestrating clashes to trigger damaged psyches? On the contrary, it seems cruel and unusual to play with the minds of the participants in this way, even if they went there with open eyes – and no way to deal with the crushing experience of oppression and captivity.

Following the casting call, Andoni asked the selected actors to outline the cavernous space of a concrete basement in Ramallah to match their memories of Al-Moskobiya. Many of the men have been incarcerated for years, so memories flood back as they recreate cells and discuss details such as the size of small openings in the doors. The participants come from various backgrounds: Abdallah Mubarak is a blacksmith, Atef Al-Akhras is a scenographer, etc. ; Only Ramzi Maqdisi is an actor, so he’s tasked with playing Mohammed Khattab, the resistance fighter whose story is the key narrative Andoni wants to recreate.

Maqdisi is beaten in the forehead until, exhausted and not allowed to take a bathroom break, he urinates in his pants. The men playing the Israelis then use her body to mop up her urine. Does such intense humiliation really serve to exorcise traumatic memories, or will it simply create new ones? And how can an audience look at this and think, “Israeli soldiers are sadistic,” without saying the same of Andoni himself, especially when he calmly watches a man repeatedly kicking another’s head against a wall ? As assistant director, Wadee Hanani is right when he tells Andoni, “You want us to be pawns in your game of chess.”

Luc Perez’s black-and-white animation featuring a young man tied to a chair with his head covered with a balaclava has a deeper impact than any of the shenanigans disguised as a means of psychological release. One can at least praise the way the graphics are mixed with the live action, as the drawn figure peaks under his hood and sees his interrogator’s real shoes facing him. Given Andoni’s penchant for psychoanalysis, it would have been more enlightening if he brought the shrink from “Fix Me” back to analyze him again, focusing on what drives him to stage such games. to be able to. Ghost hunting is a legitimate pursuit, but only when the goal is to eliminate ghosts, not multiply them.

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