Thursday 26 April 2018

THE OSLO DIARIES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***** Five-Stars

Arab-Israeli peace talks at centre of dazzling doc.

The Oslo Diaries (2018)
Dir. Mor Loushy, Daniel Sivan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are documentaries that get by on compelling subject matter alone. There are others that apply the standards, such as they are these days, of journalism and render work that makes for compelling television. Then there are documentaries that are pure, dazzling cinema with all the scope, poetry and virtuosity that place them upon the pedestal of art. When such films are also infused with journalistic principles that don't get in the way of great filmmaking and have vital, coercive and downright imperative subject matter, then what you get is something like Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan's The Oslo Diaries.

Loushy and Sivan have delivered the goods before with 2015's Censored Voices, one of the most profound anti-war films made in our new millennium, a staggeringly original and deeply poetic exploration of the 1967 Arab–Israeli Six Day War. Like that great film, The Oslo Diaries does not rest on the run-of-the-mill laurels so many documentaries are content to perch themselves upon.

Focusing on the secret 1992 peace talks in Oslo between participants on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the equation, this is a film that is at once hopeful, but also feels as dangerous and tense as a great espionage thriller - keep in mind that these talks were so secret that the participants were actually breaking the law by holding them. Imagine peace talks that could have resulted in substantial prison time.

As well, the visual juxtaposition between sunny Israel and frigid, wintry Norway, creates the kind of cinematic shorthand that only great filmmakers truly understand in terms of rendering work of lasting value. There's nothing ephemeral about the filmmaking, nor the subject matter. Then again, the notion of peace being ephemeral is not only scary, but is one of the things that forcefully drives the movie.

Another great juxtaposition is the judicious use of archival footage from the period (including the Camp David accord with Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat) with contemporary interviews (including the last interview ever given by Shimon Peres before his 2016 death).

Finally, the pièce de résistance are readings from the actual diaries kept by the secret peace talk participants and dramatized recreations of the talks themselves (chilly Kyiv, Ukraine standing in very nicely for chilly Oslo) and skilfully blended interviews conducted very recently.

This is a film that breaks rule after rule, but does so with such aplomb and intelligence and grace, that we are left with a picture that not only confounds expectations, but breaks rules for two of the best reasons I can think of: to create great cinema and to further peace. These are fine considerations. One wishes more pictures had such lofty goals and were able to pull them off as astoundingly as The Oslo Diaries.


The Oslo Diaries enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2018.