Film Review – The Wanted 18
The Wanted 18
The Wanted 18 is a well-meaning tale to show the unfairness of the Israelis in their treatment of the Palestinians but it lacks any form of a hook to grab our attention. Directors Paul Cowan and Amer Shomali try a different method of telling the story of Israeli occupation by portraying more of the grassroots level protest movement and showing the actions the Israeli government went through in the early 80s and 90s, using animation to play up the absurdity of their actions, but in the end it isn’t enough to make the story engaging.
The village of Beit Sahour decides to reject Israeli goods as a form of protest. Milk was an especially rare commodity for the village so they decide to bring in eighteen cows to produce their own milk. The Israel military governor decides that these cows are a threat to the national security of Israel and wants the cows removed. In response the town decides to move the cows and hide them as a way of protest. We also get conversations from people who lived in the village and talked about how they used non-violent means of protest of the Israeli occupation, and a few conversations with the some of the soldiers that patrolled the area at that time.
These talks with the residents are intercut with claymation of four of the cows complaining about having to leave Israel and worrying about living in the desert while being hidden in weird places around the town in over the top comedic fashion. The animation, while cute at times, was really boring to watch. The cows are not characters despite having names and are completely interchangeable. The animation sequences themselves while decently animated do not have enough happening.
There is also a third part of the story that is somewhat shoehorned in about one local youth who is more directly involved in the protest movement and how he hides out in the barn with the cows. It is an obvious set-up that he will be a victim of Israeli violence by the way people talk about him so there is no surprise when it happens. And while it’s sad that a young man has died, his part of the story is limited and it feels like it is there to try to throw a gut punch moment that is strangely muted due to all the other things happening when so little time is spent with him.
Thinking further, there really is no focus to this story. Coming in at only seventy-five minutes, the film presents too many ideas about what this village went through. The cows are supposed to be the main focus but they really aren’t that interesting. We get a lot of talk about what went into getting the cows and bringing them in and how much trouble it was for a very long time, which could have easily been covered in a one minute conversation. This is all before we learn that Israelis see the cows as a threat to their control so for much of the first half of the film I kept wondering what did they want to get across? Even when we learn why the cows have meaning hearing about the situation never works because so many of the conversations or animated sequences drag on long after the point has been made and it is clear they have nothing else to do.
One moment summed up a lot of the problems I had with this film. At one point they very randomly throw in commentary about the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians and how they didn’t help before immediately moving on to another subject. Why they felt the need to even add that moment to the film baffled me. For so long they were more focused on the local level issues and then they mention the Accords without any context of what they were supposed to do before saying they didn’t work. Tell me why! What did you expect? How did it change things for the worse? What connection does it have to the story of these cows?
For those who know nothing about the conflict this could maybe be used as a mild introduction but it is too slow and detached from its subject in so many ways that I doubt anyone will empathize with the problems the Palestinians are having. I kept thinking about films like The Gatekeepers or Five Broken Cameras, showing in different ways the problems in the occupied territories, and each with much larger scopes to their stories. These two films were able to make us feel connected to the events, be it over a few months or a few years, and have a greater sense of what was happening. While The Wanted 18 takes place over time it feels like it took just days, ironically by taking its simple concept and making it overly complex. In the end I do not know what this film brings to the table in trying to talk about Palestinian suffering.