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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Bethlehem Bandolero

Film Review: Bethlehem Bandolero

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

Be on the lookout for a red sombrero - it just might be the Bethlehem Bandolero (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

"Bethlehem Bandolero" shows Director Larissa Sansour as a gunslinger who returns to Bethlehem to save the Palestinian people from the wall. She wears a red, broad-brimmed sombrero and a black bandana with white, polka dots wrapped over her face. Alongside both her hips are silver, toy guns in holsters attached to a black belt around her waist. She struts her stuff down the ancient city's stone streets before her showdown with a concrete wall, eight meters high.

Sansour describes "Bethlehem Bandolero" as a kitsch video because it plays off the American Western -- most popular in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The motif of the cowboy who comes to town to save a person is a theme found in American Westerns, except in this short film a woman is the hero who comes to the Holy Land to have a "draw with the wall" to save the Palestinians. Sansour assimilates the persona of the rebellious bandit who takes on an almost impossible mission in an occupied world filled with cinematic history and personal fantasy. Sansour brings to the screen what many Palestinians dream of becoming: the hero who saves Palestine.

As I watched Bethlehem's Bandolero, I laughed with awe and anticipation. Watching a director as the heroine is bold and refreshing. Moreover, she challenged the West's perceptions of Palestinian women in the Holy Land. When she walked down a road, a young girl flexed her arms for the camera. Men were taken aback by the gunslinger's appearance (a red sombrero attracts attention).

Some other films that come to mind are the slapstick comedy, "Three Amigos," (circa 1986) and the 1968 Western, "Bandolero!" However Sansour's film is so unique because of the subject matter her film confronts, regardless of how absurd the approach to the wall may appear at first glance.

Here are some possible messages to take away from this film. World leaders - whether international or within the Middle East - need to approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict differently. The track record is the source of ongoing havoc and tragedy. The confiscation of land for colonization and segregation destabilizes the region. It jeopardizes peoples' personal safety and their secure access to daily life activities.

In recent current events, strong, Palestinian political leaders have vocalized the need for a national unity government. A unified government will eliminate internal strife and it will be in a more effective position to garner international support against the occupation and the wall.

According to the International Court of Justice the wall is illegal, so is the outlaw the gunslinger or the government responsible for the construction of the wall?

This short video is entertaining and thought-provoking, so be on the lookout for a red sombrero - it just might be the Bethlehem Bandolero.

-This film will be showing at St. Xavier University, located at 3700 W. 103rd St. for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival on Wednesday, May 17. For more information, please visit


U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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