Ido Haar grew up in a village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where he remembers often seeing fearful men “frantically running across the highway…I wanted to find out where they are running to, and whom they are running from.” In 9 Star Hotel he reveals the lives of a few of the thousands of Palestinian construction workers who cross illegally into Israel in search of a livelihood.
Like the best observational documentarians, Haar avoids didactic analysis and instead employs an intense, handheld camera that allows details of individual lives to coalesce into a deeply human portrait. He gains trusted access to a small band of workers who build luxury apartments by day but at night avoid arrest by scurrying into clandestine makeshift huts tucked into a wooded hillside (accommodations they comically nickname their “9 star hotel”). We get to know two workers in particular: Ahmed, a winsome joker who collects random objects, and Muhammad, a philosophical critic of the Palestinian character (“We think backward, we never think forward”). Their friendship anchors a tenuous, fragile existence.
The determination with which they scratch out a living for their families in the West Bank despite constant threat of arrest sheds new light on the interdependence of the two societies now separated by a border barrier. And yet we recognize the story of all workers, all borderlands—including our own—in this remarkable film. Haar’s achievement is to find the universal, poignant story inside very particular lives.
Winner, Wolgin Award (Outstanding Documentary), Jerusalem International Film Festival.