Diameter of the Bomb is a very kinetic documentary on the broad range of families – Israeli, Palestinian, Ethiopian – affected by the deaths of their family members when a suicide bomber stepped onto a bus in Jerusalem , and moments later blew up the bus.
Structurally, the film bears some striking similarities to the superb doc Bus 174 (2002), wherein a bus hijacking in Brazil was covered by a multitude of media cameras, and the story was conveyed through many before, during, and after interviews with several participants, including those who knew the hijacker.
Diameter's killer was an educated uncle, and interviews with his family, augmented by familiar home videos, stills, and recollections add some dimension to the desperation that engrossed the young man who was determined to make a statement by killing a packed bus.
Probably the strongest criticism one can levy against filmmakers Steven Silver and Andrew Quigley is their heavy focus on the affected families without trying to find answers for the killings, or make a hard editorial on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and that's fair if the film was driven by a decisive critical viewpoint, but Diameter is deliberately about placing names, faces, and whole identities to the dead, and allowing those impressions to linger in place of a critical or political stance.
As the school friend of one of the dead explains at the end, there's no one to lay blame, vent full rage, or find responsible because it's an old conflict that lives through successive generations. The rage has a life of its own, and it's buffered by ordinary people determined to go about their daily lives with a hope the madness will end with some future generation.
There's some repetitive use of footage and montages, but the filmmakers build a sense of dread for the chapter dealing with the bombing through a very simple, journalistic structure: state the hard facts of the incident at the film's beginning, and slowly present humane portraits of the victims in between interviews and vignettes on living with threats of suicide attacks, and facets of the crime.
Whether it's a bus driver, originally scheduled to work that day, talking about scoping riders for suspicious behaviour, or the coroner explaining what ball bearings and assorted shrapnel do to the human body, it adds dread for the blast segment.
The bus explosion comes close to the edge of the third act, and it's dealt with fairly tastefully using quick glimpses of grisly details that aren't wholly discernable. The filmmakers also use two very simple bloodless sequences that have the viewer imagine the horror: as the effects of the bomb are detailed, we see footage of young dancers, which ties directly to a young girl who loved to dance, and could only be identified by her shredded swimsuit; and a long, single shot of a doctor who treated a beautiful girl still coherent, but completely torn apart within from the blast. The latter is probably the most devastating testimony, because it's clear the surgeon wanted to share this tragedy with the filmmakers as she's one of many victims no one perhaps remembers.
As the film's opening caption reads, the interviews were conducted a mere sixteen months after the June 2002 bombing, so the testimonies and recollections are still very raw and powerful.
The music cues by Christian Henson (Dirty Pretty Things, Severance) occasionally repetitive, but the score is very supportive of the victims and adds appropriate tension to the doc's potent montages. The filmmakers include many interviews and a rich array of location footage, but sensitive viewers should be aware the final reel includes some graphic footage set over the coroner's description of what happened to the killer's body when the bomb was ignited.
Westlake 's DVD of this NFB-UK Film Council-BBC co-production includes a decent transfer of the film, although some heavy compression is evident when fine details rapidly move across the screen from left-to-right. The extras are a montage of stills of the victims culled from the film, a short video trailer, and a still of the poster art.
Very moving, and highly recommended.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan