“I wonder if any of us have learned from the past,” Ofra Bloch, the director of “Afterward,” says upon hearing the agonizing story of Abir Aramin, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl who was shot and killed by Israeli forces in 2007.
Yet when watching Abir’s father speak of forgiveness, and discovering that more than 100 former Israeli soldiers and officers later worked to plant a garden in the child’s name, optimism flickers. Such moments keep this tough documentary from sinking into despair.
Bloch was born in Jerusalem, served in the Israeli military and later moved to the United States. To explore her own history, and to better understand rising anti-Semitism around the world, she travels to Germany, where she and other Jews are treated as victims. Elsewhere, she speaks with Palestinians, who curse Israelis as occupiers.
The contrasts aren’t lost on the director, who trained as a psychoanalyst and specializes in trauma. She’s an excellent interviewer, asking difficult questions about what her subjects think of Israel, the Holocaust and the Jewish people, then carefully considering the answers. We hear from sympathetic Europeans and a former neo-Nazi; and from Palestinians, some of whom won’t denounce violence, others who promote peace.
The resulting emotions are complex, and Bloch, here directing her first feature, can be excused for allowing a few of the scenes to stray. But by the end of the documentary, she and many of her subjects posit that it’s possible to learn from history and to change, and to trust each other a little more. You can’t help but hope they’re right.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.