(director: Dylan Kussman; screenwriters: Aaron Davidman/adapted from Davidman’s play of the same name; cinematographer: Nicole Hirsch Whitaker; editor: Erik C. Andersen; music: Bruno Louchouarn; cast:  Aaron Davidman; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Aaron Davidman, Dylan Kussman; Srolik Productions; 2016)

Engaging one-man stagy performance.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

With a title that refers to Jacob’s wrestling match in the Bible, the American actor-turned-director Dylan Kussman and the liberal Zionist San Francisco-based Jewish-American writer-actor Aaron Davidman, explore the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as outsiders in this engaging one-man stagy performance. Davidman, an excellent mimicker of people, plays 17 different characters (from Israelis to Palestinians of different stripes). All the characters reside in the Jerusalem area. Most are based on real characters, a few on composites and two were invented. The three sets used are the Negev Desert (filmed in the Mojave Desert), backstage and before a live theater audience in San Francisco.

The film starts in the desert by an Arab saying “It’s complicated,” and by the film’s end, this political minefield of a film, still seems complicated despite the fine primer we got on the subject matter. That’s not to say it doesn’t have much to say, but all it could do is try to provoke a conversation on the controversial and deadly conflict between the rivals who never talk to each other (as the film’s main aim is to get them to at least talk to each other).

Maybe, if you’re an optimist, you can hope such an earnest project can get both sides to listen to each other. But I’m not an optimist on the Middle-East, especially when I see that the Palestinian Authority is intent on promoting violence to eventually destroy Israel. For example, their school text books teach a Jihad against Israel (ensuring that every incoming generation has Israel pegged as their enemy) and that their government has never even acknowledged the right of Israel to exist. Without a partner and a rival with such inherent hate, there’s probably no chance for peace. Though trying to open up a dialogue is undoubtedly necessary, unfortunately it’s not all that real at this juncture of history.

The political drama’s main target audience is the American Jewish community (though it reaches out for others like Christians and Muslims). The film wants its viewers to follow in detail the various aspects of the conflict and understand how it applies to both themselves and their community. The conflict is traced to when Israel won its War of Independence in 1948 and became a country, and how the Palestinians never accepted losing what they considered to be their homeland.

Of the 17 characters that Aaron excellently portrays, he’s a master at this art, I found the following characters the most memorable: the unapologetic American Jewish settler on the West Bank, the objective Israeli psychologist wrestling with how the conflict brings about trauma on both sides, the Reform rabbi searching with conviction for the Jewish identity, the proud IDF officer talking about having morals, a pot smoking Israeli hippie still shaken by surviving a suicide bombing, a Palestinian woman who works for the UN, and the confused Arab over the occupation seen at the opening in the desert.

Wrestling Jerusalem (2016)