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TIFF 2023 Review: Shoshana

Shoshana bears witness to the atrocities committed by Arabs, Jews and the British in Palestine prior and during World War II which in turn informs her decision to take armed action.

Archival footage narrated by Shoshana provides a history lesson about the conflict over the rightful ownership of Palestine and how the British occupation has become a flashpoint of hatred from both Palestinians and the Zionist moment.  The narrator is the daughter of the Zionist Labour movement and has become a lover of an English police officer who finds himself in the crossfire of respecting cultural sensitivities of what he views to be has adopted home and enforcing the policies decreed upon him.  The real cat-and-mouse game unfolds as the British seek to contain poet Avraham Stern who leads a paramilitary organization called Irgun which is determined to eliminate those standing in the way of a Jewish state through armed insurrection.

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Full marks to filmmaker Michael Winterbottom for plumbing to the depths of Graham Greene and John le Carré to create a love story that serves as a mirror to view the ancestral land battle over Palestine.  The relationship between Shoshana and Thomas Wilkin suggests that a middle ground can be achieved but those individuals become the collateral damage of those who view justice through the barrel of a gun. The trouble with that approach is that body count keeps on climbing as the fresh blood simply gets added on top of what was spilled by previous generations.  Irina Starchenbaum believably portrays Shashana as someone who is in command of her sense of self and Douglas Booth plays Thomas Wilkin as an empathetic figure trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Granted, pairing moderate Thomas Wilkin with ruthlessly efficient superior officer Geoffrey Morton (Harry Melling) is standard fare but it works within the context of the story.  Using archival footage to bookend the movie is an interesting decision by Winterbottom as it gives the proceedings a sense of history.  The devastation is not gory but neither is it sanitized; this is because the cinematography simply observes the action as it unfolds.  The pacing allows time to get to know the cast and actually worry about what might happen to them, while the procedural investigation, in particular the quest to unravel the whereabouts of Avraham Stern (Aury Alby) makes sure that the intrigue and urgency are never lacking.  And finally, it is no easy feat to make the romance an integral part of the narrative which is something Winterbottom has been able to achieve with the help of co-writers Laurence Coriat and Paul Viragh, and editor Marc Richardson.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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