"Children of Rage," now at the Avalon 1, seems as transparently sincere and earnest as its hero, an Israeli doctor played by Helmut Griem who feels compelled to investigate conditions in Palestinian refugee camps, organizes a clinic and ends up a martyr to ongoing enmity and extremism. Written and directed by an American, Arthur Allan Seidelman, the film was shot on location in Israel and Malta two year ago, climaxing several years of patient research and negotiation with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives by the filmmaker.
It would be gratifying to report that Seidelman's good intentions had resulted in a movie remarkable for more than good intentions, but evidently you can't have everything. To the extent that the film might encourage concilatory attitudes one welcomes it, but it remains a clumsy, banal piece of well-meaning filmmaking, easy to patronize but difficult to get excited about.
Set in 1968, the story opens with Griem discovering to his sorrow that the dying Fedayeen commando on his operating table is an old college chum and traces his subsequent efforts to establish friendly contact with the Palestinians. The intial - and most desirable - contact is the commando's Junoesque sister, a teacher played by Olga George-Picot, whose younger brother, Richard Alfieri, has vowed to avenge his brother's death and set off for the nearest guerrilla encampment, soon to return as an urban terrorist.
Although Griem portrays the doctor as a painfully sincere and selfledd individual, the presence of George-Picot invites a degree of sexual speculation that the script declines to acknowledge. American moviegoers may remember Georges-Picot as the noblewoman who engages in eye play at the opera with Woody Allen in "Love and Death." Construted along the lines of Jacqueline Bisset, she is an impressive figure of a woman. One could certainly forgive Griem's doctor for trying to do good out of mixed motives, but the film is too high-minded to stoop to mere romance. So one is left to feel caddish for ascribing part of the hero's torment to desire to impress the heroine.
The plot construction is not exactly airtight, and Seidelman has a tendency to insert debating matches in ways that can seem obtrusive, long-winded and disconcerting. For example, there's something unintentionally funny about the sight of Griem and guerrilla leader Simon Andreu airing their differences in the back of a bouncing truck across the supine form of a badly wounded Alfieri. Their points of view may be worth airing, but this isn't the most effective setting.
Seidelman also runs into trouble trying to take expository shortcuts here and there. For instance, one is left with the surely inaccurate impression that Andrue's unit decides independently to begin terrorist missions in the cities. The Israeli and Palestinian threads of the story are never interwoven adroitly, and it appears that Seidelman might have been better advised to recapture events further in the past and dramatize the doctor's friendship with the ill-fated older brother.
One must admire the courage and dedication of anyone who attempts to amke a well-meaning picture in difficult circumstances, but "Children of Rage" recommends itself as a decent geature rather than a stirring achievement.