Cinema has been for many diasporic communities the privileged site of self-representation and sometimes of idealistic (re)construction of homeland. Over the past thirty years, Palestinian cinema has constituted a site for negotiation and circulation of values and behaviors that have contributed to the creation and perpetuation of Palestinian cultural and national identity against the systematic denial of such an identity by the Israeli occupier.
I argue that the formation of a Palestinian identity has been and remains a continuous vital process rather than a final preshaped construct. However, the performative act of cultural identification has been more successful than the building of a national Palestinian state. Photography as well as cinema—fiction and documentary—has succeeded in establishing a recognizable cultural identity of the Palestinian people, while other discourses (political, ethnic, and religious) seem to have failed to achieve this goal. Diaspora becomes in this perspective a vehicle of change and a territory from which other forms of resistance emerge, including resistance to and critical dissociation from self-indulgent archaic value systems associated with ethnic, social, and historical identifications.
I analyze in this essay Palestinian-Belgian filmmaker Michel Khleifi's documentary and feature films as sites of a diasporic reconstruction of identity. I then focus on iconic representations of the face (the portrait and the close-up) and the landscape (the panoramic establishing shots), arguing that photographers and filmmakers alike have made extensive use of the face and the landscape in order to authenticate the Palestinian reality and fetishize—through remembrance and material replacements—the lost land of Palestine.