The Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival’s third season is wrapping up this week, and I sincerely hope it garners more support than was represented by the forty attendees at Thursday presentation of the haunting film “God’s Slave”. The film’s core hinges on the roots of terrorism and the extremist acts carried out in the name of religious conviction. The film is centered on a true event, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires. It was Argentina’s deadliest bombing, and it prompted the closing of its borders to protect the sixth largest concentration of Jews in the world. Israel sent Mossad agents, counter-terrorism operatives, to investigate.
The film director, Joel Novoa, ( son of Director Joseph Novoa) uses taut action and underplayed emotions to intertwine the stories of Ahmed and David. Both Arab and Israeli have suffered childhood trauma. The psychological realities of this are underscored in a beautiful script by Fernado Butazzoni. Two personal tragedies and parallel paths to martyrdom balance the madness. Though there is one scene where the Muslim sleeper-cell is enjoying the finger-licking goodness of hummus while watching a tv re-play of their destruction. Their sporting cries of “we crushed the Jews” is ghastly. But then, the Muslims believe that this life is ” just a translation”. For the Jews, ” l’Chaim”: this life is it.
In ” God’s Slaves” backstories are as important as the philosophy of belief systems.
We begin in 1975 Lebanon ; Ahmed is eight. He looks at his father and asks, “No lamb, today?” His father rejoins with ” If it is not from Allah, we don’t want it.” Shortly, his father is labeled a traitor, and slaughtered in front of him as Ahmed partially hides behind a sofa. You will not forget his eyes or his voice saying “papa”. Ten years forward and we see Ahmed on a plane. He is going to Caracas where he is to find a girl, get married, have children, and wait for the call.
David Goldberg at 14 has seen his father blown away in a street cafe. For David there can not be another suicide bomber or another terrorist attack. The smoke and screams linger. David’s mantra is that “It is always good to remember.” Remember and memorize he does with the facts and the faces of every would be assassin. He cross references passenger lists and practices a Jeopardy-like game using a board of over nine hundred faces, artifacts and atrocity stats. He keeps every detail in his head. “It is always good to remember”.
The two opponents are set-up. Both have wives and a child. Both read their Holy texts: the Koran , the Talmud. We as viewers know there will be a connection. We know what they both are capable of- David has threatened to kill the nine-year- old grandson of an informant if he doesn’t disclose names. The demoted David oversteps and kills the informant anyway, coldly stating “he was involved.”
Rooftop chases, acrobatic jumps, keep the tension high.Two men are on their own missions defined by their own circumstances. Children are the reoccurring motif. When we see a young child in the street refusing to move, we think we have an ending on a humane note. Ahmed, as Javir, experiences an epiphany. The man of healing ,who has betrayed his wife for the cause, now rejects his role.
David follows Ahmed in hopes of taking down the entire cell. He knows ” they will take care of their own traitors”. Javir will be spat upon, killed and filmed . Both David and Ahmed have a gun. Ahmed lays his down, but will David ? Does it matter ?
The ending is a stunner and a reality call and profoundly sad. Another pre-teen Arab boy sees his dead father ( the same man who killed Ahmed’s papa for being a traitor ), and this seven -year -old literally and metaphorically picks up the sword.
Marian University’s political science professor Dr. James Atlas’ remarks preceded the viewing and highlighted the fact that “terrorism” is difficult to define. Twenty years since this attack, there is still no universal definition. 192 nations within The United Nations can not concur. The U.S. Legal code mandates three components in its definition: unlawful, indiscriminate violence targeting civilians for the objective of social change.
Atlas’ mini-lecture on terrorism as the weapon of the weak helped set the tone for ” God’s Slave”. As a strategy of populace incrimination, terrorism will always be with the world, like crime will always be with the world. But the evolving nihilism of terrorism can be stopped. This film shows how~ through human connection.