Thursday, 2 April 2015


For three weeks, London’s BBC 4 presented a gripping thriller from Israel. This is rare. Most TV films tend to be USA imports. On the top list, tick:  “Sopranos” (about the Italian Mafia), “24” (CIA super hero), “Wire” (drugs, surveillance and crime); to cite a few. “Homeland” the latest most popular series is also from the USA but is based on “Prisoners of War” by award winning Israeli producer and screenwriter, Gideon Raff.
Hostages. Pic from Small Things
“Hostages” is a brilliant tale of a family held captive by four ruthless gunners.  Also known as “Bnei Aruba” in Hebrew...the programme is unique...
Unique because on each of the Saturday night that the heart thumping piece was beamed, two to three episodes were flashed in succession.  Held in their own home, a professional couple and two teenage children, suffer immensely. 

The father is a school teacher; the mother a highly rated surgeon. That is the general idea.  Beneath the guns and domestic tension lies a huge association. The gunmen are super connected. They want the Prime Minister, who is scheduled to be operated by Mama Surgeon, dead.
 “If you want to see your children grow up and marry...” leader of the hostage takers, a local police officer, turned thug, calmly threatens the wife. “The Prime Minister must die tomorrow.” As the pretty surgeon drives to the hospital the following day, the four kidnappers watch her through a video monitor fixed on her phone while keeping guard on her husband and kids.  Now.
That is the main plot. A powerful narrative running through ten episodes. Beneath this poisonous snake are tiny, ongoing story lines, each as powerful as the main one. So what happens? Film unfolds. We are confronted with all sorts of tales, scenes and relationships. Just to offer a few examples. Noa, the 17 year old daughter has just found out that she is pregnant. The boy, Assaf, is a clever 15 year old hacker who is able to figure out that his father is in financial crisis.  Dad is in deep shit.  Two of the hostage takers are lovers; the man, a merciless, insane killer.  The youngest (and most erratic) of the kidnappers, starts liking, Noa, the daughter.
Many twists and half way into the film, every character is brought into sharp focus. Nothing seems straightforward; nothing simple. Meanwhile, we peer into the relatively unknown inner life of Israel through the mortuary, computers, infidelity, cars, hard work, dogs, etc. 

“Film,” the great American screenwriter, Preston Sturges, (pictured above) who died in 1959, wrote in Sullivan’s Travels, “is the greatest educational medium the world has ever known.”
Yes. Creators of “Hostages”, Rotem Shamir and Omri Givon manage to give us a glimpse of Israeli family and society. The language used is Hebrew. May we pause for a minute and reflect on that?
Lately, Tanzania has been debating the issue of language instruction in schools. Many academics, critics and politicians have exemplified countries which “developed” through their own languages. Writing in our sister paper, Mwananchi, last Sunday, African American scholar and promoter of Kiswahili, Professor Pete Mhunzi, argued, “Let us not forget that a lot of people in many countries use English as a commercial and communication language to others...  When these people are in their own countries they use their own national languages. Examples are Germans, Japanese, French, Italians, Chinese, Russians...”
Shalom.  Could we hear that sentence again, please, Professor Mhunzi? Many countries operate in their own languages. But when dealing with you, they resort to English.
Prof Mhunzi. Pic from his website

As I watched “Hostages” I realised it had no ridiculous mixing and borrowing from other external languages or trying to please American and English film viewers. Actually an American version (with a similar title) was inspired and made in 2013. Hear, hear.  Stick to your own roots. You shall be honoured.
BBC 4 has actually done this deliberately.
In 2013 the London based corporation announced it was going to, “cement BBC 4 as home to international drama” by beaming three foreign language series. “Crimes of Passion” set in the 1950s Sweden, “1864” from Denmark and “Hostages” which we are discussing here. All these films are viewed in their bona fide, original, authentic languages with subtitles.
 One day, a Swahili drama series being broadcast, as such. The question is, why not? This can only happen if our artists and creators of entertainment push up their confidence and invent stuff about our own lives. Albinos. Juju priests. Giraffes. Swahili food. Whatever. People all over the world love learning about others through works of fiction. So far we know (and witness) Israel, only, through eyes of the Palestinian crisis, Gaza, terrorism and politics. But watching a movie like this gives you a different perspective. Makes you aware that beyond the political blah- blah are families, corrupt police, sex, dogs and the heart beat. Just like you and me.

- Published in Citizen Tanzania newspaper 20th March, 2015.


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