‘The Wanted 18’ puts cutesy spin on violent situation

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, August 5, 2015 3:41pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Taken separately, there is nothing wrong with political documentaries, animation, or talking animals. Put them together, and you have my kryptonite.

So my lack of enthusiasm for “The Wanted 18” can be taken with that in mind, especially if you like all of the above.

The very slim 75-minute film is based on an incident that took place during the First Intifada: In 1988, as part of a general organized pushback against Israel, some Palestinian inhabitants of the town of Beit Sahour purchased 18 milk cows from a sympathetic Israeli farmer. This way, the population could produce its own dairy products and stop relying on Israel for that part of its diet.

Not being dairy farmers, there was a good deal of bumbling involved, which makes for some mildly amusing reminiscences from people who were there. Then the Israeli authorities decided to stop the project, and a hunt ensued as the Palestinian milkmen tried to hide the bovines for a couple of increasingly bizarre weeks.

So the concept here is a film that criticizes Israel’s presence in Palestine under the guise of a whimsical anecdote. Fair enough; that’s one way to make a political argument.

Now about the animated talking animals. The film’s co-directors, Canadian Paul Cowan and Palestinian Amer Shomali, have combined talking-heads interviews and staged re-enactments with claymation-style cartoons of the cows.

The cows have names, like Rivka and Ruth, and they talk in cutesy voices, which range from Catskills shrillness to youthful vocal fry.

The cows are innocent of the region’s traumatic history, but they wonder why these Israeli soldiers keep threatening to take them away, when all they want to do is give milk. If only we would listen to the wisdom of the cows, I suppose, we could all live together in cheese, love and understanding.

Although it wants to crystallize an Israeli position it views as absurd, “The Wanted 18” gives little sense of the Intifada’s reality, except that it was apparently exciting for those who were young at the time. I understand the satirical pitch the film is aiming for, but the superficial gloss on a violent and tragic situation curdled the humor for me.

“The Wanted 18” (1½ stars)

A documentary film (with cartoon elements) about an incident from the first Intifada, when Israeli authorities chased a batch of milk cows that belonged to Palestinians in a small town. Some may find the film’s absurdist politics effective; but the cutesy voices for the cows (yes, they talk) tend to grate, especially when the overall subject is grave. In Arabic, Hebrew, and English, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter

Showing: Grand Illusion theater

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