Concerned Citizen (Berlinale 2022 Panorama review)
Ben plants a tree on the street in front of his house in Neve Sha’anan, a migrant neighbourhood in the south of Tel Aviv. The district is on the up, and Ben has bought and upgraded a flat here together with his partner Raz. This gay couple now enjoys a settled existence, their days are structured by a well-established routine and everything is in its proper place. Time then, to tackle their desire to have children. And so, assiduously and conscientiously, they set about searching for a suitable egg donor and surrogate mother. One day, when a neighbourly conflict escalates over the tree he has planted, Ben becomes witness to brutal police violence against an Eritrean. The incident upsets his self-image and his plans for a life together with Raz.
Idan Haguel portrays a gay middle-class couple whose desire for self-realisation begins to narrow their worldview but also their self-view. Ben is shown to be pretty cool to visit a Muslim country for vacations, or live in a neighborhood with lots of immigrants. He never speaks ill of them, but yet again how healthy is to say that this neighborhood will be far better in 5 years time. Ben will never complain of the multi-cultural neighborhood, instead he and his partner are happy they live there and their kids will grow to include everyone in their lives. His planting a tree is a part of wanting to make this neighborhood better and his perfect life in his perfect apartment even more perfect. He is proud of what he has achieved. He is socked when he realizes that his care of the tree are directly linked to an incident of extensive police violence. This hunts him and makes him feel remorse on one hand. On the other though he still needs this tree to be not leaned on and destroyed by anyone as this tree is his hard achieved status quo.
Haguel masterfully depicts the inner thoughts of his main character. From denying his actions, to guilt and from there to remorse and engagement with the foreign, the inner journey of Ben covers a vast spectrum of western views on gentrification and its mechanism, asking and questioning the viewers tolerance to the different. The writer-director meticulously stages every little detail in the story, from the the gay couple to their friends, the desire to start a family, Ben’s analyst. Everything plays an important role in the film, told from the eyes of someone who enjoys the “white privilege” and tries to face his own demons that will lead him eventually to redemption.