Directed by Susan Sontag
France 1974, digital video, color, 87 min.
Filmed during the bitter end of Israel’s Yom Kippur War in 1973, Susan Sontag’s third film and only documentary is a complex portrait of a land shrouded in irreconcilable tragedy. In what she called her “most personal film,” she worked with both her girlfriend as producer and son as assistant director in an exhausting, risky journey through battlefield, pasture, desert and city from the Golan Heights to the Gaza Strip and beyond. In her writing as in this film, Sontag preferred “collage, assemblage, and inventory.” Lingering shots of mourners at the Wailing Wall, abandoned remains of humans and their machines, and soldiers reenacting war in a psychiatric ward interact with sequences of herdsmen minding goats, people chatting at the market, and children holding hands. “It is a film about a mental landscape,” says Sontag, “as well as a physical and political one.” Unidentified, occasionally disembodied voices sometimes reinforce, sometimes counter her visual chronicle – itself containing so many contradictions amid the grief and gunfire. Pondering the origins and probable outcome of “two rights opposing each other,” Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk and physicist Yuval Ne’eman typify variations of the intellectual speculation that continues today. Painfully present, Promised Lands reverberates like the bells in the opening shots or the recurring heart monitor sound flat-lining and coming to life again … ominous yet hopeful, always a lament.