The Wanted 18 (Kino Lorber, NR)

The Wanted 18 75You can guess how this story ends, but somehow it doesn’t feel as sad in the telling as it might.





The Wanted 18 500

War and occupation tend to bring absurdity as well as tragedy in their wake, and a sense of humor is never amiss in telling even the most awful story. Those twin principles guide the documentary The Wanted 18, co-directed by Amer Shoumali and Paul Cowan.

The main action in The Wanted 18 takes place in the late 1980s, and the central event in the story is the decision of the villagers of Beit Sahour, a majority Christian village in the West Bank, to purchase 18 dairy cows. The villagers have no experience with caring for cows—goats and sheep are more in their line—and they have to send a student to the United States to learn how to milk them properly. Despite some comic mishaps, however, this venture in producing their own milk goes well until Israel decides this small herd (purchased legally, from an Israeli kibbutz) is a threat to national security.

It’s hard to see how a few cattle could threaten the security of a modern nation with a large military force, but one benefit of being an occupier is never having to explain yourself. Perhaps Israel was concerned that this show of independence would inspire other villages to follow suit. More likely, they were concerned with economic interests, since every drop of milk produced by the Beit Sahour dairy was one less drop that would need to be purchased from an Israeli dairy.

Whatever Israel’s motivation, the owners of the Beit Sahour cows had no interest in handing them over without a fight. Of course, fighting really wasn’t an option, given the imbalance of power between the two disputants, so when the Israelis came to seize the cows, they had simply disappeared. Of course this is only a temporary solution (it’s hard to imagine hiding one cow for long in a densely settled area, let alone 18). After the bovine fugitives from justice are seized, the villagers call a tax strike in protest. In response, the Israelis begin to confiscate personal property, including automobiles and household appliances, prompting condemnation from the floor of the United Nations.

You can guess how this story ends, but somehow it doesn’t feel as sad in the telling as it might, in part because the directors take a measured and philosophical approach to the incident. The film’s use of animation as well as live action helps as well, because it’s impossible not to recognize the absurdity of life when being told a story from the point of view of a group of talking cows. The filmmakers’ point is not to minimize the injustice of these particular events, or of the lives of those who still live under occupation today, however, but to show the strength of the Beit Sahour community and to underline the absurdity of the entire incident. | Sarah Boslaugh

The Wanted 18 will be shown as part of the Webster Film Series on October 10 and 11 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for senior citizens, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty, and free for Webster students with proper ID. Further information is available by calling 314-968-7487 or from the Film Series website.

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