"World Cinema: Israel"
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.
Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Avi Nesher's new feature film, The Matchmaker (Hebrew title: Once I Was), is a story about love – searching for love, coming-of-age love and tragic love, all in the context of post-Holocaust Israel, where survivors were still hesitant to talk about their experiences.
It is the summer of 1968, right after the Six Day War. Arik is 16 years-old. His best friend's cousin, Tamara, comes to visit for the summer. She is an American girl, espousing free love and rock 'n roll.
The film follows two parallel, poignant and intersecting stories – Arik's summer job with Yankele, who works as a marriage broker and deals in smuggled goods; and Arik's first love affair with Tamara.
Yankele is a Holocaust survivor whose office is in the Lower City of Haifa, where Arik quickly learns about prostitution and illegal gambling. Arik is living in two disparate worlds. He is growing up in a middle class neighborhood high up the mountain in Haifa, where he goes to youth movement meetings with Ashkenazi and Sephardi friends; and he has a summer job in the seedy Lower City where he is meeting all kinds of people, learning about love and crime.
Yankele -- whose face is badly scarred – a metaphor for the terrible suffering that he underwent "over there" -- is in love with Clara, a fragile and elegant woman who is so hurt inside by her experiences that she is unable to love. This is the tragedy of Yankele's story.
Arik's father remembers Yankele from his childhood. He too is a Holocaust survivor, but he never talks about it. This is a time when Israelis still think that all survivors obviously did something terrible in order to survive – as if all the women were prostitutes and all the men were kapos. And what if some of them did do terrible things to survive a terrible time and place? Should we respect them any less?
An additional plot element: Yankele's office is located in a run-down part of Haifa behind a movie theater, run by a family of dwarfs, survivors of Mengele's medical experiments. Poignantly, their movie theater plays only love stories. One of them, a beautiful woman named Sylvie, who is short statured and also a Holocaust survivor -- is searching for love through Yankele's matchmaking for unhappy souls.
This is a remarkable coming of age story, filled with emotion – love, despair and malice -- combining young love with Holocaust memory, vivid and quirky characters in a time when Israelis were still unable to grapple with or talk about the Holocaust. Looking back on this, it is amazing to me that in the late 1960's, the Holocaust was still a taboo subject in Israeli culture. So much has changed since then. But this film chose to only hint at the subject without hitting you in the face with it, in a very sensitive and sincere way.
The film is a partial literary adaptation, inspired by When Eagles Fly by Amir Gutfreund, well-known Israeli author of Our Holocaust. Avi Nesher is well-known for his other films: Dizengoff 99, The Troupe (Sing Your Heart Out), and more recently, Turn Left at the End of the World and Secrets.
The Matchmaker is distributed internationally by 6 Sales