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LOCARNO 2018 Critics’ Week

Review: The Apollo of Gaza

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- LOCARNO 2018: The latest poetic documentary by Nicolas Wadimoff has opened the Critics’ Week at the Locarno Film Festival

Review: The Apollo of Gaza

Whilst the theme of Nicolas Wadimoff’s latest film, The Apollo of Gaza (screened during Critics’ Week at the Locarno Festival)doesn’t appear to have much in common with its predecessor at the festival (Jean Ziegler, The Optimism of Willpower, presented out of competition in 2016), the aesthetic which characterises and unites them is unmistakable. They both display a welcome tendency to let the images speak for themselves, to allow them to rise above and beyond the spoken text (which we hear only very fleetingly via an off-screen voice, lingering somewhere between dream and reality) so that they might fulfil their full potential, feeling no need to underscore their meaning with words. It falls to the audience to grasp their significance. 

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Eight years after the appearance of Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza)Nicolas Wadimoff is back hunting the ghosts of Gaza, and this time he picks as his starting point a bronze statue dating back to 200-300 BC. This is an ancient statue which is priceless for its rarity, and which leaves breathless all those who are lucky enough to look upon it. It is, in fact, a bronze representation of the Olympian god, Apollo, who once reigned over the magnificent Gaza City. The problem, however, is that the statue has mysteriously disappeared. It can’t be seen. All that remains are the stories of those who had the good fortune to admire the statue in person - a multitude of impassioned accounts that are spun together to form a great web, pulled taut with facts, myths, intrigue but above all, hope.

Wadimoff sets off in search of a truth which he already knows to be impossible to find, starting with the testimony of the fisherman who first pulled the Apollo statue from the sea on the Gaza coast in 2013, and ending in the exploration of a potential plot involving Hamas militias, a prospect so terrible it leads the government itself to tremble with fear.

The uncertainty linked to the impossibility of verifying the many successive stories that are told and that intertwine is enhanced by the images which accompany them. These are often chiaroscuro images, or mirror images (such as the two windows filmed side by side, though separated by a wall, which frame the magnificent pink sunset of the city). There is a duality (between what is and what could/should be) in this film, and a beauty (hidden amongst the debris, laid low by an omnipresent war which inundates the land and our TV screens) which combine to embody the very essence of Gaza, a ghost town of a thousand possibilities, as proven by the statue of Apollo which was unexpectedly and miraculously (re)born from the city’s body of water.

Though its appearance and disappearance was meteoric, fizzling into light only to fade back into darkness, the Apollo of Gaza statue has provided this war-tormented land with a much-needed opportunity to reflect on its past, and on its present, with dignity. It has given locals an opportunity to draw breath, to find the strength to hold onto hope for a better future, where life is once again peaceful and bright – a future which seems to be slipping ever further out of reach. 

Taking its lead from Apollo of Gaza, Wadimoff’s film appears before the viewer, shines and then disappears, offering up to the city a portrait of what it still could be: proud, cultured and beautifully poetic. “What we forge in adversity will stand the test of time”, states one of the interviewees, and indeed, we truly wish this to be the case for all those who have the courage and tenacity to hold onto hope. 

The Apollo of Gaza was produced by Akka Films, the National Film Board of Canada (which is also handling international sales) and RTS Radio Télévision Suisse

(Translated from Italian)

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