‘Spiral’ Chronicles the Impact of Prejudice on Everyday Lives

Posted June 21, 2018 5:48 p.m. EDT

In “Spiral,” Laurie Fairrie — a documentarian who has worked in broadcast journalism — takes a bottom-up approach to investigating the rise of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe. Instead of offering a sprawling overview, Fairrie profiles individuals and families in France and Israel, in an apparent effort to capture a cycle of fear and xenophobia that, if exposed, might also offer hope for rapprochement.

There is the Duran family, Parisian Jews preparing to leave France because of anti-Semitism. There is a lawyer prosecuting Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a comedian convicted in 2015 of condoning terrorism and known for making anti-Semitic statements. M’bala M’bala is interviewed as well.

Nabil, an Arab community leader in the divided Paris suburb of Sarcelles, which has large Muslim and Jewish populations, says Jews don’t interact with the rest of the suburb, the site of an attack on a kosher market in 2012 and riots in 2014. François, a schoolteacher in the Jewish section of Sarcelles, remembers a time in his youth when Jews and Arabs in France were united. He suggests to his class that the way Jews avoid mingling with their neighbors has contributed to their own fear.

Fairrie also visits Israel, interviewing a Jewish man from Manchester, England, who has become a settler in the West Bank with his family and the mayor of a Palestinian village.

The upshot of the film is a little murky, which is the risk of such a diffuse, dialectical approach, and certain details could be clearer. By dividing a movie on this topic between France and Israel, Fairrie implicitly turns anti-Israel sentiment into a reductive scapegoat for anti-Semitism. Elsewhere, the degree to which far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen have grown in stature gets shortchanged in the movie’s account.

“Spiral” is best in smaller-bore moments, showing how everyday lives are affected by prejudice.

“We can’t deny that our children are more French than Israeli,” the patriarch of the Duran family says in voice over as the film shows them leaving for their flight.

The English settler, who believes his family lives on divinely given land, doesn’t traffic in ambiguities. “This is a place where you’re stepping on people’s toes,” he says of the West Bank. “We’re not obsessed with it.”


Additional Information:


Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes.