Tomer Shushan’s White Eye is hard to watch for how it makes us, the viewer, complicit in one man’s detachment from another person’s plight. A man finds his stolen bicycle chained outside a factory, and he will stop at nothing to get back what he believes is still rightfully his. Of the many questions this film proposes, one remains vital: can you save yourself after you have committed a desperate act? For Shushan, writing and directing White Eye was redemption for himself.
When Omer, played by Daniel Gad, spots his stolen property on a leisurely stroll, he offers a stranger 250 shekels to cut the lock off. Later in the film, the bike’s new owner, Yunes, played by Dawit Tekelaeb, pleads with Omer to let him keep it since he bought it outright from someone at a bus stop. Yunes offers to sell back the bike to Omer for the same amount amount of shekels, but Omer doesn’t budge. Shushan saw himself in the character so much because he lived the exact same experience.
“On the personal level, I am a person who never thought that I could be like that,” Shushan began. “I am a person who went to all the demonstrations for the refugees that were in Tel Aviv in the last few years. I am the person who whenever a minister would say that refugees aren’t bettering our society, I was the first one to quote him and post it and say how wrong it is. My instincts were so wrong and controlled my common sense and real values and made me act like this terrible person. I was afraid of being next to these people and this is why this film and this story is a meaningful event in my life. I really changed after this happened to me.”
Shushan is using his art to expose his own experiences that some people face with subliminal prejudices.
“Yes, and I will tell you why. In real life, the story came out better. I was able to convince the officers to let him go. It ended up much better. I caused the fear in his eyes. I felt so horrible with myself. I can say that this film is a redemption for sure.”
The movement of the camera is so impressive, and it makes us feel as if we are part of a crowd on this unfortunate night. We could be leaving a bar with friends or even be one of Omer’s comrades. Shushan had difficulty at first trying to make the camerawork seamless to make it all in one shot. The way the camera glides makes it feel more personal and immediate.
“We had money to make this film only in one night. It was a very, very crucial night and I can tell you that until midnight, we didn’t have anything. Not even two minutes. Nothing worked. We took a break to let people rest and everyone went to eat and I thought to myself what to do. I had to change my behavior a bit and be more confident to carry everyone with me. The first time we tried when we got back and we walked away with eight takes by the end of the night. Six of them were full takes and we chose the one the next to last one. Also, I remembered when Yunes is telling his story to Omer and he’s telling why he needs the bike, I remember almost crying. I knew that was the take.”
The actions of the film don’t leave a particular block of space. We go into the factory and see other migrant workers hiding but when we are outside, the sounds of the night push in on us and the camera captures so much life. There is a sex worker occasionally getting in and out of cars and being dropped off or picked up. Her presence even had a meaning.
“I wanted to give the area a character so we understand where it is. It’s also made to show there are other people in society that no one sees. There is her and another character in the back and the police don’t care that she is there. Or what horrible things she might see that night. She comes back at the end to remind us it’s all about circles and the circle of life and everything will go back to normal.”
Some have found the ending of White Eye to be shocking when Omer discovers that Yunes has been taken away by police. The night is pressing in on itself, and Omer regrets the actions that he set into place. As Shushan takes one last look at our surroundings, we discover both men have disappeared. It doesn’t end with Omer but of an unforgettable image of the bike that started it all.
“I wanted to show the equality between Omer and Yunes. Yunes disappears in one way and so does Omer. We are left with this bike that causes all this mess. It’s just a material thing that caused the issue. The story is bigger than Yunes. It’s bigger than Omer. It’s an international issue and I wanted to focus on that.”
Like most of the shorts nominated in the Live Action Short category this year, White Eye demonstrates how we need to be more empathetic towards one another. If we only take a moment to try and understand each other better, we might be able to make living more bearable, and that is something Shushan hopes his audiences leave his film with.
“As a person that experienced this story and it really changed me, I hope it’s not ambitious to say that I want to change people’s view of people who cannot be seen. We are all the same. There is nothing that justifies behavior like this and we need to be more patient and we need to care about the other and our fellow man.”