To say that residents of the Catholic–run Our Lady of Sorrows Nursing Home, in East Jerusalem, live in the shadow of the security wall being constructed by Israel is hardly a metaphor. As recounted in the new documentary This Way Up, the wall, composed of concrete slabs — one of which, marked This Way Up, was in fact installed upside down — runs right past the windows and doors of Our Lady of Sorrows. But the loss of a view is not what troubles the Palestinian Christian residents most. Even the actual shadow introduced by the wall is not the worst thing. The worst is the separation from their families. Our Lady of Sorrows, an incidental victim of the wall’s zigzag through the West Bank, has fallen on the Israeli side. For these elderly Palestinians, it is the "wrong" side.
Shot vérité-style, This Way Up is loosely structured around the daily perambulations of one of the male residents, Jad. (The film’s French title, "Le jardin de Jad," translates as "Jad’s Garden.") Still robust and wearing his trademark knitted cap, Jad is a weathered, tough-as-nails visage as he prowls around Our Lady of Sorrows and its rocky environs. Inside, he quietly makes the rounds to see how the other residents are doing. Outside, he reveals an insistent curiosity about the daily goings-on around the home, including work on the wall. Periodically, he pauses to draw on a cigarette with the most sincere and extraordinary pleasure, which seems to give him a philosophical distance from the sufferings of old age.
Jad’s pleasure in cigarettes is matched by that of at least one other resident, a bed-ridden old woman who, despite her condition, believes life is beautiful and that any time is a good time for a cigarette. Smoking, in fact, seems a habit endemic to the home’s residents, a habit that the nuns and staff do nothing to discourage.
What Our Lady of Sorrows lacks in up-to-date practices and facilities, however, is more than compensated by the staff’s genuinely caring attitude and a prevailing warm-hearted atmosphere. Some of the residents are in terminal stages of old age; some have lost their senses. There are those who are bitter and miserable with old age, those with sharp minds and those who still find life worth living. Despite all of this, the nuns and other staff maintain a remarkably upbeat environment — even as the wall, built to stop suicide bombers from infiltrating Israel, has made running the home more difficult. Some workers must sneak in, while others simply climb up and down a ladder set against a section of the wall that hasn’t yet been completed.
And so, to the rigors of old age are added the wall of a terrible conflict. And while some of the residents avidly follow the news of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, others will have nothing to do with politics. One woman cuts off such talk with the comment that she’d "rather eat oranges." Yet few of them can ignore the personal effect of the wall dividing them from their families. Even with the wall incomplete, authorization to visit is so difficult to obtain that relatives sneak in, much as the lay staff does. Once the wall is complete, they face the prospect of visiting becoming impossible.
As the wall grows into an implacable presence in their lives, the residents of Our Lady of Sorrows reveal equal parts anger, fortitude, eccentricity and humor as they contemplate living out their lives on the front line of one of the world’s most enduring conflicts. Beautifully shot and eloquently constructed, This Way Up examines a wall of geo-political consequence in the most intimate way — through its impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people affected by it. In this way, the film interrogates the effects of all walls that divide communities, families and psyches for the sake of security.
"It was difficult to find the money for a more intimate, almost non-political film on the Arab/Israeli conflict," says director Lazarevski. "
"I went back to Jerusalem twice, once for a month and the other time for three weeks, to finish the project. I actually lived at the nursing home, so that I could gain the trust of the inhabitants and the nuns who cared for them."
This Way Up is a production of Arturo Mio in association with Arte France.