Promised Lands

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Promised Lands
SUNRISE, SUNSET Two workers go about their day.

Strong and pointed as Susan Sontag’s intellect could be, she was sometimes undone by the trendiness of her topics. Case in point: Promised Lands, her unfocused documentary portrait of Israel during and immediately after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Sontag and a skeleton crew photograph this war-torn nation with a fashionable inquisitiveness—as if it’s the mod place for the intelligentsia to bear witness to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

Interview-wise, there’s some one-on-one bloviating with a writer (Yoram Kaniuk) and a physicist (Yuval Ne’eman), but the film largely lumbers between locales—the Wailing Wall; a barren desert littered with war dead—in a vain search for cohesion and profundity. Sontag occasionally trips into brilliance: A midfilm montage of exhibits in a government-sanctioned wax museum (featuring everything from the Eichmann trial to Golda Meir’s powwow with JFK) is a lacerating critique of official histories. And there’s a sickening sequence in a psychiatric ward where doctors re-create battlefield conditions for a shell-shocked soldier, with the intent of healing him.

Yet these are isolated moments of insight amid drudgery. Sontag’s true talent was for the printed word; behind the camera, her limitations come more harshly to light. Upon Promised Land’s release, she recounted her experiences in Vogue—an all-too-appropriate forum since her film is mostly chic posturing.—Keith Uhlich

Opens Thu; Anthology. Find showtimes

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