Description of a Memory, directed by Dan Geva, is a poetic essay using references to the original Chris Marker classic film, Description of a Struggle, winner of the Golden Bear at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.
In this updated version, Dan Geva succeeds in creating a dialogue with Chris Marker, using grainy images from then compared with the new, remarking on the sights and sounds, bringing us the protagonists of 30 years before and helping us to understand where Israel is going. This is a look at Israel today, through the lens of yesterday. Questioning, critically probing, seeking memory.
Who are we? What are our dreams? How have we changed since the original film in 1960?
The film includes signs and cryptic images from then and now. Then: a burnt tank, concrete walls, an Arab boy on a cart, a camel, a coin. Today: McDonald's, a road blocked by a wall "born of hatred and of living in fear", disengagement, land confiscation.
The film is made up of 13 memories or sequences. Just a few of them --
Assassination in the name of God
A weekly meeting of a kibbutz, a utopian society which was "meant to counteract all the axioms of the old world." The meeting is presided over by the kibbutz general secretary, Rachel Rabin, sister of Israel's later-to-be prime minister. Now that the utopian society is no more, the filmmaker revisits Rachel. In that original scene, she was wearing a pin that her brother Yitzhak brought her from a secret mission outside the country. Interestingly, he was talented and experienced in protecting himself from without, "but not from the dangers lurking within."
The Urgency to Make Peace not War
At the Wailing Wall, soldiers swear an oath and are inducted into the army. The narrator states: "Stronger than their will to die for their country is someone else's will to sacrifice them." The other side of the coin: A youngster pushing a cart in East Jerusalem dreaming of blowing himself up. Why are both sides so willing to sacrifice their sons in the name of country?
In the original film, Noah Rosenfeld, chess champion at the age of 11, grew up on a kibbutz, "in a world where money had ceased to matter." Years later, we see him as a high school teacher, living in the city, criticizing the materialism that he sees around him.
The Disengagement – A Moment of truth
Two sides of the coin. The filmmaker's closest friend from childhood is being uprooted from his home as part of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He sees his home as part of a "divine promise" whereas the filmmaker sees it as "tragic hubris." Two childhood friends -- "to each his own memory".
Description of a Memory is bookmarked by pictures of an artist. As a young girl in the original film, Chris Marker saw her as the "swan girl" (because of her stunningly beautiful and long neck) and his film portrayed her as an image or sign of Israel for the future. Dan Geva finds her today, living and painting in London, and sees her not as a swan or a sign but as a human being. And that is the crux of the film -- Israelis are not symbols or metaphors. Israelis are real people living real lives, grappling with issues and sometimes messing up.
Photographed with a fisheye lens causing a distorted, hemispherical image, the film is strikingly compelling and lyrical (2006, 80 minutes). It is available from JMT Films.