Under ideal circumstances, marriage is hard work. Under extreme pressure, it sometimes seems impossible. Jasmin Avissar and Osama “Assi” Zatar, the young couple at the heart of Gabriella Bier’s documentary “Love During Wartime,” are under extreme pressure. She is an Israeli and he is a Palestinian. As the film, which is playing in the Tribeca Film Festival, makes abundantly clear, the pressure comes from all sides, including some unexpected ones.
Jasmin and Assi are an appealing couple — young, attractive, creative artists. At the film’s outset in June 2006, she is a ballet dancer working and living in Berlin, while he is a sculptor in Ramallah. Circumstances have forced them to live apart, reluctantly. He cannot get a permit to live in Israel; she cannot get a permit to live permanently in the Palestinian Authority. They are awaiting an appeal in their lawsuit against the Israeli army, which oversees the permit process, and a student visa for Assi that would allow him to live in Berlin. In the meantime, they struggle with the separation, reuniting for a week here and there.
The film makes clear that the couple’s struggles are almost exclusively the result of obdurate bureaucracy — in Israel, in Palestine and even in Germany. And as we follow the duo we see the almost palpable tensions in the relationship that such constant pressures bring about. When it comes to the here-and-now, “Love During Wartime” is a sound piece of contemporary documentary filmmaking.
But Bier, a first-time director from Sweden, gives us much less sense of the couple’s back-story. We see their families, who seem to be mostly supportive and warm towards their new in-law, we hear each of them in voice-over talking about their problems. But we never find out much about such basic things as how they met, how the relationship progressed, how they married. The result is an oddly shaped film that seems at once to both have and lack texture, giving a sense of Assi’s and Jasmin’s daily routine together and apart, but no sense of how they became the people they are, the couple they are. As a result, the film is simultaneously appealing and frustrating.
Elsewhere in the festival, let me draw your attention to a couple of short films by directors whose work has been lauded in these pages frequently. “The Green Wave” is Ken Jacobs’ latest game with perception, a deconstruction of a brief shot of a small, turbulent tidal pool, subjected to the maestro’s usual array of jump cuts, tinting, sudden changes in aspect ratio and the like. If you are looking for an introduction to Jacobs’ work in this vein, this is five and a half minutes that will fit the bill nicely.
Jay Rosenblatt’s “The D Train” compresses an 80-year-old man’s life into five delirious moments of found footage; it’s a funny, bittersweet journey and one of Rosenblatt’s best films yet, deeply felt but wry.
The 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival runs through May 1 at locations throughout southern Manhattan. For information, go to www.TribecaFilm.com.