- Paul Gallagher
- 22 February 2013
Thoughtful, Oscar-nominated documentary about the heads of internal Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet
Shin Bet is the name of Israel's internal anti-terrorist intelligence agency, the identities of its personnel are all top-secret, with the exception of the man in charge. In this remarkable, vital documentary Israeli director Dror Moreh interviews the six still-living men who have previously been heads of Shin Bet, with a focus on analysing particular decisions they made and courses of action they chose to take or not take, in the years since the Six Day War in 1967. Moreh establishes his tone of thoughtful inquiry in the film’s first moments, as the most recent Shin Bet head matter-of-factly describes the process of assassinating a specific individual, pauses, then comments on the 'unnatural' power one must hold to be able to do such a thing.
Drohr takes a roughly chronological approach in the subjects covered by the interviews, allowing the Shin Bet heads from different time periods to effectively comment on each others’ approaches by inter-cutting interview segments. Archive footage, reconstructions and cleverly manipulated photos all serve to illustrate the periods and incidents discussed, but it is the interviews themselves, and their sheer breadth and depth, that make this film so valuable. Questions of morality, the limits of intelligence, the destructive power of entrenched religion and the desire for revenge are all thoroughly discussed, making the film an informed companion to Kathryn Bigelow’s equally essential and troubling Zero Dark Thirty.
The reflections, discussions and admissions Moreh elicits from these articulate, thoughtful men are often stunning in their openness. Particularly compelling is the presence of internal conflict, what one of the men refers to as 'the rifts that exist between us'. As one shows a surprising ability to see the perspective of his Palestinian neighbours and enemies, another reflects on successful ‘operations’ with an easy pride that feels uncomfortable to say the least. This seemingly insurmountable conflict so unflinchingly described will be almost too much to bear for some viewers; this is a film that leaves a knot in the stomach, and no easy solutions as to how to get rid of it.
The Gatekeepers screened at Glasgow Film Festival. On release from Fri 12 April.