The Death of Klinghoffer (UK, 2003)

Reasons for evil

Reasons for evil

Klinghoffer was a victim of Palestinean hijackers (a cruise liner the Achille Lauro) in 1985 and this is a film of John Adams opera. Mainly it’s shot in a realist fashion, with handheld camera, interspersing news footage and library footage. Well, ‘realist’ as far as opera can ever be realist.

I love Adams’ music, and the performances are terrific (particularly Christopher Maltman as the cruise liner’s captain – the moral centre), so I was always going to enjoy that. In the past I’ve found filmed opera unsuccessful, preferring filmed versions of stage performances, but Penny Woolcock’s direction is great.

The opera was controversial in America, accused by some of being anti-Semitic; this suggests that it would be, at the least, even-handed and that proves to be the case. The killing of Klinghoffer is clearly evil but the opera contextualises the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with scenes from 1948 and the creation of the Israeli state (and Britain’s role in this). So we understand why the Palestinians are being ‘terrorists’; Israeli’s attitudes are not neglected: the Nazi persecution of Jews is included. The opera manages to represent the (macro) politics without neglecting the individual’s (Klinghoffer’s wife) grief.

If everyone watched this film then understanding of this conflict in the Middle East would be much better understood and condemnation of Israel’s actions much more widespread.

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