I always find films that weave together the personal with the national turn out to be the most interesting. Last week at the Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, I attended the premiere screening of Longing, directed by Effi Banai, a complex film in the style of a personal documentary, telling the filmmaker's own story, and placing it into the national context.
Effi Banai grew up in the neighborhood of Kfar Shalem in southeastern Tel Aviv. His family lived in a housing project, right near a destroyed Arab village which was part of the landscape of his youth. The filmmaker sets out to discover the different elements that make up this landscape: there was the original Arab village whose population was expelled during the 1948 war; on the same land was built the Jewish neighborhood of Kfar Shalem, populated by immigrants from Iran; and today the town is slated for renewal which will force out the old-time residents, many of whom are resisting the inevitable forces that make way for new high rise apartment buildings.
Before 1948, the area was an Arab village called Salameh. One energetic woman tells a story that, when she was 14-years-old, Menachem Begin approached her, because she spoke Arabic, to spy on the local Arab population and to report back. She told him that these local farmers would not cause any problems. But he decided that they needed to be expelled anyway since they lived so close to Tel Aviv. Later, the destroyed Arab village became part of the landscape of the filmmaker's youth, but at that time, he didn't seem to think about who lived in those homes and what happened to them. Today, he remembers that as kids they played soccer in the yard of the deserted mosque, and, working on the film, he becomes acquainted with the elderly Arab man who once again holds the keys to the holy place of his youth.
The filmmaker's mother died when he was 16 and through interviews with neighbors the viewer learns about her and her community. She came from Ispahan in Iran, which was once a flourishing Jewish community, and she longed to recreate the memories and settings of her youth in her new home. It was not easy for these immigrants to become integrated into Israeli society. One old-timer complains that he never learned Hebrew and he eloquently states, "to be an immigrant is to die before your time."
Integrating the creative use of music and beautiful cinematography with vignettes and human stories, this is a personal film about different populations that have grappled with the difficulties of becoming uprooted as our contemporary national identity has been molded and formed.
The film Longing (52 minutes, documentary, in Hebrew and Farsi, with English subtitles), is distributed by Ruth Diskin.