Eye-opening and mind-expanding: The Green Prince, Particle Fever

FILM, Film Festivals
img_greenprinceAt the New Zealand International Film Festival: the complexities of an Israeli secret service spy operation; the inspiring physics of the Large Hadron Collider experiments.

The Green Prince tells the almost scarcely believable story of Mosab Yousef, the son of Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who ends up becoming a spy for the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet. Yousef spies on his father, and within prison, takes the codename ‘The Green Prince’. Because of how secretive Shin Bet were, Yousef’s operations were barely known, at great risk to Yousef himself.

The documentary is essentially a two-hander. It features accounts from Mosab Yousef and his minder at Shin Bet, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who recount their eye-opening story in an intriguing mix of emotion, back-covering, and determination. It’s filmed in a breathless thriller style, and moves at breakneck pace. Given the story is composed of the muddy politics, divided loyalties, and betrayals a-plenty, it’s an apt approach.

That said, it’s hard not to feel like there’s a sense of self-serving testimony. While the politics are messy, Yousef’s testimony seems a little too calculated to protect himself. The torture from Shin Bet that convinced him in the first place is glossed over (in fact, Shin Bet’s role in a general sense), along with the superficial recognition of life under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. In terms of this complex political landscape, the film is unsatisfyingly straightforward.

img_particlefeverParticle Fever, on the other hand, is a fine example of a complicated story told in an extremely lucid and compelling way. The documentary looks at the Large Hadron Collider experiments by CERN that sought to replicate the foundations of the universe, and the quest by CERN scientists in particular to find the elusive Higgs Boson. Director Mark A. Levinson holds a degree in theoretical particle physics and this clearly shows: the film is at once extremely erudite, but impressively accessible.

It was well reported at the time that the Higgs Boson appeared to have been found, but the film structures this quest in a way that makes what it actually means the real drama. The mass of the Higgs Boson was seen as determining whether the universe is part of a series of universes (a multiverse) with potentially arbitrary laws, or a single universe of “supersymmetry” with fixed laws. While for non-physicists it might sound complicated, it’s anything but. Composed of talking heads, physicists from different theoretical approaches debating with experimental physicists, and nifty graphics that strip these ideas back, there is no sense throughout that the complicated nature of these ideas are compromised in the telling in any way. Particle Fever is a joy of a film, in which the origins and rules of our universe become rightfully as exciting as any Hollywood thriller.

The Green Prince (Nadav Schirman, Germany/Israel)

Screening: Auckland | Wellington | Dunedin | Christchurch | Other

Particle Fever (Mark A. Levinson, USA, 2013)

Screening: Auckland | Wellington | Dunedin | Christchurch | Other