aka La Dechirure (The Tear, or Torn)
Susan Sontag’s third directorial effort and her only documentary, Promised Lands (1974) which scrutinizes the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the growing divisions within Jewish thought over the question of Palestinian sovereignty, shot in Israel during the final days and immediate aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Sontag structures the film as an antiphony between two sets of images. The first consists of observational sequences detailing moments from modern Israel: desert landscapes, patrols of roadside soldiers, old men and women at the Wailing Wall, Israeli grocery stores and movie theaters, the Jerusalem War Cemetery, a military psychiatric ward, and a wax museum depicting the official history of the state. Intercut throughout are conversations with two intellectuals: writer Yoram Kaniuk, a supporter of Palestinian rights who sees Israel shifting from its socialist roots to an American-style commercial culture, and physicist Yuval Ne’eman, who argues for the endemic nature of Arab anti-Semitism.
“Though the film grants no direct access to Arab or Palestinian voices, its clear elaboration of the debate prompted Israeli censors to ban its initial release, claiming it would be ‘damaging to the country’s morale.’ Stateside, Stanley Kauffmann praised the film’s Hegelian quality, writing that it presents ‘not a struggle between truth and falsehood but between two opposing, partial truths.”
– Ed Halter, Light Industry
Promised Lands was produced by Nicole Stéphane (producer of Marguerite Duras's Destroy, She Said, and also star of Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terribles). The writer David Reiff (Sontag's son) served as the film's Assistant Director.
“Using the Arab-Israel War as a metaphor for the human condition, Susan Sontag has made a strong, clear, intelligent film. It is unlike any film that I have seen.”
– Roberto Rossellini
"Susan Sontag's film on Israel is a beautiful, important work. To see it powerfully moves the emotions and immensely deepens our understanding. Promised Lands is saturated in tragic dilemma, in a world of suffering and necessity, in the pain of strong and noble human beings trapped in endless conflict. The scenery - bright, dry, and beautifully glaring - shares its meaning with portraits of some of the most interesting minds and ideas ever put on film. Compassion and intelligence lift Promised Lands far beyond a documentary intention and make it a work of the imagination."
– Elizabeth Hardwick