A documentary film by Udi Aloni
After Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem
USA Israel – 70 Min

“Local Angel,” a film by New York-based Israeli artist Udi Aloni, is not an easy work to characterize. It’s a documentary about the root causes and present contradictions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a deeply personal odyssey of discovery, and a surreal work of art combining poetry, music, and images both beautiful and horrific. While its subtitle is “Theological Political Fragments,” the film ends by tying its many elements together in ways the viewer may not expect.

Moved by the destruction on Sept. 11 of the World Trade Center, one of the temples of capitalism, Aloni returned to Israel to grapple with the concepts of sacrifice and the sacred embedded in the history of a much more ancient edifice — the Temple Mount, a Jewish touchstone on which now sits the Moslem Dome of the Rock.

The heart of the film is Aloni’s effort to understand the theological-political background he inherited from his mother, Shulamit Aloni, founder of the Israeli Civil Rights Movement and a leading peace activist. The film includes wide-ranging discussions with Hanan Ashrawi — in many ways a Palestinian sister of Shulamit — and chairman Yasir Arafat, which are further buttressed with the observations of leading progressive Israeli and Palestinian scholars.

This intellectual pilgrimage is intercut with highly stylized musical sequences of Israeli singers and a Palestinian rap group, both of whom perform their work in Hebrew and Arabic. Images of mutations of Walter Benjamin’s angel haunt the film from beginning to end.

Like a large, complicated canvas by a master painter, “Local Angel” is both challenging to the observer and deeply moving.