Fact and Fiction -- This week at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, we concluded a five-part film series in honor of "Sixty Years" which included meetings with filmmakers and the screenings of classic films on issues that continue to occupy us as Jews living in contemporary Israel.
Check out other programs at Beit Avi Chai -- http://www.bac.org.il/
The concluding event of the series featured acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Yulie Cohen and her most recent film, My Brother (2007), in which she attempts to reconcile with her estranged brother, 25 years after the family was torn apart when he became an ultra-Orthodox Jew. In her particularly personal documentary style, Yulie turns the gaze of the camera inward and focuses primarily on herself, on her own feelings, on her own perspective, as she tells her story and that of her family.
She searches out help in trying to better understand her brother's world. She asks her colleague, filmmaker Naftali Glicksberg, who was brought up in the ultra-orthodox world, to accompany her on a visit to B'nei Brak. Driving around the neighborhood, she thinks she sees her brother on the street. In this emotional moment, she is unable to reach out to him. In her discussion with the audience later, she explained that she was unable to reach out because she was filming the sequence and she didn't want the camera to be the tool that brings about the reconciliation between herself and her brother.
Because she grew up in a fiercely secular home in Tsahalah, Yulie goes in search of more Jewish learning, thinking that this might provide her with some insight into her brother's world. She learns Talmud and establishes a strong bond with Ruhama Weiss, who herself grew up in a more orthodox environment. She writes letters to her brother – letters that go unanswered.
Yulie uses the fact that reconciliation within the family is so complicated to hint at the challenges of reconciliation among Jews and also between Jews and Arabs in the region. Some members of the audience found it difficult to understand why the filmmaker would include a reference to the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a film about family issues. Yulie, however, discussed this honestly with the audience, talking about the difficulties of family reconciliation even when regret and apologies are offered. If this is so difficult on a personal and family level, how much moreso is this the case on a national and international level. In the case of the assassin of Prime Minister Rabin – he has not expressed regret to this day.
Both the film and the discussion that ensued are extremely relevant today in the face of the decisions that we will have to make as a nation concerning peace and reconciliation both within and without.
This film concludes her trilogy –
My Terrorist (2002),
Zion, My Land (2004),
My Brother (2007).
The First Film in the Trilogy - My Terrorist
Yulie Cohen grew up in Tsahalah, an upper middle class neighborhood of the aristocratic military elite, dreaming of becoming an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. After her army service, she worked for El Al as a flight attendant. In 1978, in a terrorist attack against the El Al flight crew in London, her colleague was killed and she was wounded. Now, years later, married and the mother of two little girls, she is trying to come to terms with that formative experience.
She is also trying desperately to make a difference in the cycle of violence and revenge that have been taking place during her lifetime. She is looking for another way. The logical next step, according to Yulie, is to search out and communicate with Fahad, the terrorist -- or was he a freedom fighter? -- who attacked her and killed her colleague and, since that time has been sitting in prison in the U.K.
As she is establishing communication with the terrorist, she recognizes the fear and hatred around her. She meets a bereaved mother who lost her daughter in a car bombing and who describes the pain of losing a child. In the contemporary reality of suicide bombings, Yulie is afraid of letting her own daughters go out of the house. She recalls the terrible fear that she experienced at the time of the terrorist attack in London and the post-traumatic stress that she suffered as a result.
It is after 9/11. As Yulie is painting the metal bars on the stairs of her home (symbolic of prison bars), she senses that fear is overwhelming her and she realizes the danger of its leading to hatred. Even as she is conscious of the fear, she must consider Fahad's request that she write a letter supporting his parole.
This is a highly emotional film. Some of the emotional moments deal with Yulie’s relationship with Fahad. For example, when Yulie goes to visit Fahad at the prison in England – she looks in his eyes and doesn’t see the hatred that she saw there years ago at the time of the terrorist attack. Yulie describes this moment as choking, no air, she couldn’t breathe, because she was so overcome with emotion. On the other hand, the film provides highly emotional moments when the bereaved mother cries out in pain. Yulie’s relationship with Fahad is one of reconciliation, whereas the bereaved mother only desires revenge.
These are two different world views that are expressed in the same film. The bereaved mother lives in the past with memories of her daughter, dwelling on hate and revenge; whereas Yulie lives in the future, focusing on reconciliation and the future of her own children. This film highlights the difference between choosing past or future. Choosing the future is to choose life.
My Terrorist, My Brother and Zion, My Land are available from the filmmaker, Yulie Cohen at email@example.com
My Terrorist is distributed in the U.S.A. by Women Make Movies, http://www.wmm.com/
"World Cinema: Israel"
Upcoming speaking tour in the USA - I will be available from after Succot until Nov. 9th. Please be in touch if you would like to invite me to speak about Israeli cinema in your community!
My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.