Identities merge, memories disintegrate, roles switch, the smallest action has devastating consequences and no one really knows how to make it right again. More worryingly, as the closing line attests, there are many who don’t care. Welcome to Self Made, a hypnotic shuffle through Israel and Palestine that takes in art, isolation, gender and culture clashes amidst confusion that clears just enough to bring Shira Geffen’s film to a successful close.
It opens with a bed breaking before everything spirals. Lying there one morning with her husband, the leg snaps off tipping internationally renowned Israeli artist Mihal (Sarah Adler) onto the floor, banging her head on the way. After ordering a new one, she erupts in rage when it arrives missing a screw. Her celebrity status accidentally securing a swift response, the company resolves to fire the worker who made the alleged mistake.
This brings Palestinian factory worker Nadine (Samira Saraya) into play but the narrative path becomes no clearer. Geffen jumps across topics capturing moods while engaging in surreal flights of fantasy. There’s the chef who softens up his shellfish by playing music to it, a frustrated German film crew, extreme art exhibits, recruiters inciting the disenchanted to blow themselves up for a good cause and one soldier more interested in the state of her make-up than the brow beaten people before her.
To bring it all together, Geffen creates a complex and often very funny web that spreads across a growing number of scenarios. The humour melds pointed commentary with wonderfully observed crudity. A particular standout comes as Mihal chats to her husband online, his head in a minimised box that artfully censors the pornographic picture that’s popped up on screen. This is matched by the moment Mihal and Nadine eventually meet as they end up switching identities in bizarre circumstances at a border crossing.
With the thin line between them broken down, everyone else fails to notice a change has occurred as Mihal is swept up by a recruiter who loads her with explosives while Nadine steps into her counterparts life, snarling and spitting at the television crew come to speak about her new art exhibition set to be unveiled in Venice. It’s both an allusion to the way people see what they expect to see from Israelis and Palestinians and the general lack of attention that’s paid to the achievements of women, leaving them distinguished by what they are, not who they are. If you can be mistaken for someone simply by standing in the right place, maybe both sides aren’t as different as the long-running conflict suggests.
Geffen’s film is a sustained assault on concentration and understanding, brimming with so many ideas it’s hard to keep up. It’s inconsistent, confusing, sometimes too obvious and easily distracted. After a while the bombardment begins to have a soporific effect. Either you go with it and let the repeated diversions wend their idiosyncratic way, or you give up and switch off. Choose the former. Self Made is worth persevering with.