This week, the Jerusalem Cinematheque is offering a retrospective of the films of Dan Wolman. The opening event, which was held on Jerusalem Day, featured the screening of My Michael (1975), a landmark literary adaptation of the celebrated novel by Amos Oz, one of Israel's best-known contemporary writers.
Filmmaker Dan Wolman, one of Israel's most talented and creative filmmakers, was born and grew up in Jerusalem. Two of his major films feature the city of Jerusalem as a major element in the narrative -- Hide and Seek (1980) and My Michael -- not to mention his documentary, To Touch a City (1978).
My Michael is set in early 1950s Jerusalem, which was divided in 1948 into an Arab sector and a Jewish sector, an event that split friendships and neighborhoods. A reflection of the divided city in which she lives, Hannah, the heroine, becomes melancholy, isolated, and filled with conflict and tension.
Hannah (Efrat Lavie) is a Hebrew literature student at the Hebrew University, a young woman of sensitivity and desire. She is married to Michael (Oded Kotler), a reticent, sympathetic, hardworking geologist. However, she is unfulfilled by the peaceful, humdrum, conventional life that they are leading. She is melancholy, unhappy in her marriage, writing a diary. Hannah slowly abandons herself to a world of dreams in which both her past attraction to and fear of Arab twin boys, with whom she played as a child, play a major role. As the film develops and the Arabs grow into mature men, her fantasies take on more erotic characteristics and, at the same time, become more violent, hinting at terror.
The film is remarkable in many ways. Firstly, much of it is filmed through windows, as we see people behind the window bars, giving the viewer a sense of peeking in at the lives of the people we are watching. Secondly, the film, although filmed in 1974 Jerusalem, provides a look at life in the city of the 1950s. It was a period of economic difficulty and things were basically dull and depressing -- before economic prosperity, with the city divided, before the era of museums, concert halls, theaters, and shopping malls.
Hannah is a woman imprisoned by her husband's inarticulateness, by his reticence to tell her how he feels about things, and by her attraction to others. When one of her neighbors has a mental breakdown and is sent to a nearby sanatorium, Hannah goes to visit and meets a woman who is a reflection of herself. She whispers "sh, sh", and then screams frantically.
The film concludes with Hannah finally breaking down, clanking her teaspoon back and forth on her teacup. This is a fascinating conclusion, offering a rhythmic allusion to the sound of the Arab stone masons, chipping away at a block of Jerusalem stone. According to Dan Wolman, it was Amos Oz's idea to end the film in this way.
At the screening, Wolman told the audience how difficult it had been to find an Israeli distributor for this film because it was the post-Yom Kippur War period and people didn't want to see melancholy films. Finally, the film was picked up by a local distributor and it had a very successful run in Israeli cinemas.
Wolman also told the audience that while he is happy about this retrospective of his films, he prefers to look forward, rather than backward, and is indeed working on a new film!