Viewing Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking is emotionally devastating. The film is a record of the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which entailed unimaginable cruelty. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the Chinese, the Japanese committed 20,000 acts of rape in the first month of occupation, according to the Tokyo Tribunal on War Crimes, convened after World War II.
There are few tasks more daunting for a filmmaker than straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. It is hard enough to establish a tone for a movie without the added challenge of making the funny stuff and the melancholy moments work together like the ingredients of a magic potion.
I’m not sure why I found it so endearing, the surgeon’s always saying, upon hearing his patient’s slightly hopeful rephrasing or reply just after he’s been told the how and the why of the surgery or recovery, a fine-mineral fear inset in optimism, “From your mouth to God’s ear.” The surgeon said it encouragingly, with a smile. Considering it, it took me only a little while to realize what it signified: “We can’t really know, but it’s good to hope so. Who knows? Let’s hope so. But also don’t mistake my taking of a measure, my neutral explanation. Elsewhere is your treasure or rescue, if any exists. Nothing is promised, either.” By then, I was content to drift in uncertainty’s ether.
For one day in December differences were set aside between Israelis and Arabs in the Haifa region of northern Israel. A soccer tournament was organized that brought together more than 200 Arabs, Jews, and Druze. The event was planned to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Christmas truce that took place on the front lines of World War I on Christmas Day. Legend has it that some German and British soldiers even played soccer. The soccer tournament in Israel came at a time when Israeli-Palestinian relationships were at their lowest point in years (National Catholic Reporter, December 20).