Just look at yourselves: The face and the ethical event in israeli cinema

Anat Zanger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In his writings (Totality and Infinity and Otherwise Than Being), Emmanuel Levinas points out the affinity between the ‘other’s’ face-proximity and responsibility. In this article I focus on the way in which the ‘I’ challenges the physical border demarcated by a checkpoint, in order to reach ‘the other’s’ face, and our own. Following Levinas, I trace the cinematic writing of the face of the ‘I’ and the ‘other’, which are subject to a dual disciplining – that of the checkpoint, and that of the cinematic camera. The transition sites in Israeli cinema function as a recurring meeting point between the military and optic regime. These sites serve as an intersection that discloses the changing positions of Israeli film, and through it that of the Israeli collective unconscious, in its attitudes towards ‘I’ vis-à-vis the ‘other’. My reading will be guided by four films: Ben-Gurion (1997), a short film directed by T. Grad and G. Levenberg, with a screenplay by A. Dayan; and three documentary films all made during the 2000s, Borders (Riklis and Keidar, 2001), Checkpoint (Shamir, 2003) and Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (Mograbi, 2005). I contend that the shifting – from a gaze attempting to bring closer the other’s suffering towards a gaze focusing on our own Israeli faces, and from fiction films to first-person documentaries – is intended to expose the face concealed by the mask, and, through this disclosing, to intensify the doubts concerning our responsibility as observers and witnesses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-306
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • Borders
  • Checkpoints
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • Ethics
  • Face
  • Israeli cinema


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