With the risk of slipping into propaganda territory, Nadav Schirman manages to stay clear and objectively tell a very subjective story of conflict and betrayal in the Middle East, one that even the writers of Homeland would envy.
Mosab Yousef, son of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is captured and imprisoned by Shin Bet, the Israeli internal secret agency. Shin Bet appoints Gonen Ben-Itzhak, a handler, to try and recruit Mosab as a source, and get him to spy on his father, and subsequently Hamas. Mosab knows that in the eyes of his people he’ll be committing an act of betrayal more shameful than rape, yet he accepts. He’s given the code name “The Green Prince.”
This is a story of a source and his handler, narrated in chronological order by both protagonists, and filmed quite successfully to resemble an action spy thriller, with suspenseful music, special effects, and dramatization of events. But action spy thriller this film is not. It is not even fiction; it’s a documentary, and like with any documentary film, one is bound to wonder about the extent to which its creators have managed to document reality in an objective fashion – provided we assume that the function of a documentary is to do that, and if we assume that documenting reality is, in the end, feasible.
It seems that, despite the best intentions, reality will always be filtered through our eyes, and the sole obligation of a documentary director is to remain true to his subjects and reality as seen through their eyes. Very much like a psychotherapist, perhaps, a documentary director only deals with a biased and subjective version of reality, and, unless we are talking about reportage of raw footage with no editing, a director unavoidably becomes an extra filter through which a given version of reality is filmed.
What is depicted in this documentary is not “real reality,” but a version of it; the version of Mosab and Gonen, who tell a one-sided story of what’s happening in Palestine, where Israelis are unequivocally the “good guys” and Palestinians the “bad guys,” harboring terrorist organizations like Hamas. No mention, though, of the oppression of the Palestinians, or the atrocities committed by the Israelis over the years.
Nonetheless, Schirman has been respectful towards his protagonists, faithfully telling their histories and seeing the world through their eyes, so I am hesitant to hold him entirely responsible for filming such a one-sided story. In the end, it’s just one version – and not his own, even though he may agree with it – and a well-informed audience is left to make up its own mind. He could be held responsible for sensationalizing it with music and effects, which I personally didn’t mind.
Moreover, it would be unfair to focus only on the political aspect of the film and ignore the greater, more universal, human aspect of the narrative; a story of friendship and humanity in the midst of enmity, violence, and conflict; a story of trust, devotion, love, family bonds, truth, idealism, but also of betrayal, disillusionment, lies, fear, and shame; a story of two people who became pawns in a political game of chess, but who lived to escape the chessboard and tell their truth -at great personal cost. In that sense, The Green Prince is also a film about courage and bravery that transcends its country of origin, where peace is yet to be achieved, and bravery seems to be a notion that has always been somewhat misinterpreted.