Independent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup. Today, he muses on the most recent POV film.

Tom RostonAs I watched 9 Star Hotel, I was overcome by this strange feeling of déjà vu. I was captivated by the slice-of-sad-life story about the young Palestinian men who live in a shack and work construction illegally in Israel. The measured, reserved tone of the film impressed me. The high-rise grandeur of the buildings in the backdrop while these guys live in squalor moved me. The dusty, desolation of where they work, the running and hustling of their lives, the sad, intelligent looks in their eyes… And then I remembered: The Bicycle Thief.
Bicycle Thief by Vittorio de Sica

Now, I know the subjects are quite different, and some might consider comparing a fictional film to a non-fiction film blasphemous, but I think that 9 Star Hotel director Ido Haar has managed to recreate the feeling, the mood and even the characters of Vittorio De Sica‘s brilliant neorealist film from 1948. De Sica’s movie is a work of fiction, yes, but it did use “real” people for the crowd scenes. The film feels real, as it tells the story of a man whose bicycle is stolen as he is looking for work. He then goes out to search for the bike with his son. Not much of a plot, right? But neither is there much of a storyline in the life of the boys of 9 Star Hotel. But what both films do is depict a time and a place with what feels like seamless authenticity. And I think both films tell the same tale: ordinary men desperately trying to eke out a living. And between the soulful, hungry looks of the young men, the stark settings and the bleak final notes, I just have to see the two films in the same light. And so, maybe I should tweak what I wrote earlier: it is De Sica who who recreated a reality that has changed little in the past sixty years. And it is Haar who has managed to capture it.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen