Concerned Citizen Falls Short of Its Intriguing Premise
Concerned Citizen is a film that sets out to prove what its viewers should already know: white people are often unabashedly racist. The 82-minute satire entertains with a host of clever moments from writer-director Idan Haguel, but falls short of providing insight that lives up to its intriguing premise.
Set in Tel Aviv, the film follows Ben (Shlomi Bertonov), who lives in a comfortable apartment with his partner Raz (Ariel Wolf). Their neighbors include a number of Eritrean refugees. The gay couple are gentrifiers, often praised by friends for living in a neighborhood that will soon be completely “different,” i.e. more white and lucrative. Ben and Raz plan to have a child via a surrogate mother. Seemingly, Ben fulfills this paternal instinct in the interim by planting a tree in the street outside their apartment.
One night, Ben sees two Black men leaning against his beloved tree. An unforgivable act in Ben’s eyes, he decides to take action. He calls the police and later watches as they chase down one of the men and beat him to death for destruction of public property. He does nothing but feel guilty.
To cope, Ben first lies about the murder to others. Then, he calls the police to find out what happened: perhaps the man lived? He then tries to run away by holding an open house for the apartment without telling Raz. Eventually, he and other white men attempt to justify his actions. By the film’s end, Ben and Raz pull a stunt that would surprise even the most devout millennial-hater.
A hand-held camera follows Ben throughout the streets of Tel Aviv, capturing his manic state. Often, he will be framed in tight spaces, or placed at a bit of a distance from the frame. All of this is to give the viewer a sense of Ben’s “inner struggle.” That struggle is where the film’s dark comedy hinges.
Ben works as some kind of designer or urban planner. We watch as he constructs new worlds on his computer, just to his liking. When he’s not working, Raz and he are searching for the perfect surrogate mother and egg donor, pouring over genetic records to try and have their ideal child.
In other words, Ben possesses an inordinate level of control over the biological and digital worlds around him. He exercises tremendous amounts of privilege in his day-to-day life. The murder comes when Ben cannot exert such control in an otherwise insignificant moment. Nevertheless, the racism of a self-proclaimed liberal and educated white man rises to the surface with deadly effects.
Haguel invites the viewer to reflect on the implications of Ben’s sexuality. Yes, a gay man too can be racist. Not all oppression is equal. And the film points to the obvious: racism exists everywhere. This is a useful reminder, but Concerned Citizen, in choosing to follow the racist’s point-of-view, fails to move beyond a dark and absurd depiction of the irrational, violent nature of xenophobia and racism.