Throughout Georgi Lazarevski’s quietly contemplative documentary This Way Up (IMDB), the residents at the Catholic–run Our Lady of Sorrows Nursing Home in East Jerusalem find themselves increasingly closed in by the security barrier built by Israeli forces. The nursing home, “an incidental victim of the wall’s zigzag through the West Bank,” happens to fall on the Israeli side of the barrier, separating the aging patients from their families, making it more difficult to plan visits and to receive needed medications. Some of the patients upbraid their adult children for not visiting more often, but without the proper documentation, such visits become increasingly difficult, and soon they seem to accept the infrequent visits as a part of life at the home. The Palestinian Christians who live there regard the barrier with degrees of curiosity, sadness, and resignation, sometimes quietly observing, but in other cases, lamenting their isolation from family and friends.
Lazarevski uses a vérité approach, content to observe the residents, their families, and the medical personnel who patiently run the nursing home, often mediating conflicts between residents who argue over the television or complain about someone singing too much. One resident, Jad, remains in good health, and he serves as a guide of sorts, observing the construction of the wall and wandering the spaces behind the home that, thanks in part to the looming barrier, have become rocky and closed off (in fact, the film’s French title, Le jardin de Jad, reflects both Jad’s centrality and the tiny yard behind Our Lady of Sorrows). Both Jad and another female patient are frequently seen puffing on cigarettes, and the female patient in particular, offers what may be her only smile when she is given the opportunity to satisfy her nicotine fix. The doctors and nurses don’t bother to stop the cigarette smoking, perhaps reasoning that a small pleasure such as a cigarette outweighs the harm, especially at that point.
Even the medical staff must improvise to fulfill their daily routines. Supplies are more difficult to obtain. Many of the workers must sneak in from the Palestinian side of the wall; while others climb a ladder over an incomplete portion of the wall. And the wall itself becomes a site for all manner of political statements and absurd observations. In fact, the film’s title comes from a spray painted message “this way up,” painted quite naturally upside down, reminding us of the ways in which the wall has disrupte all sense of direction. For the most part, teh actual conflict takes place offscreen. Momentary glimpses of the conflict show up on TV, and sometimes a patient will complain about Bush or Arafat, but for the most part the geo-political battles are felt only in their implications for the residents and their families.
Lazarevski arranges these elements to depict the patients with great warmth and compassion while also teasing out the absurdities and difficulties of aging in the shadow of a security barrier, separating them from their families and friends. In fact, during a couple of key segments, particularly when one patient was cursing out another for singing and when another admitted she’d “rather eat oranges” than follow the Israel-Palestine conflict, I found myself reminded of a Samuel Beckett play, as the residents sought to make sense of aging and the isolation brought about by the chance location of the nursing home where they live. It’s a fascinating little documentary, one that brings an unexpected light on one aspect of the Israel-Palestine conflict and its effect on the people who must endure it on a daily basis.