I just returned from the Central European Film Festival that took place in Medias, Romania, where Dan Wolman's latest film, Valley of Fortitude (Gei Oni) -- previously reviewed on this blog -- was awarded the Special Jury Prize. The audience loved the film and offered resounding applause for Dan Wolman, and the star of the film, Tamar Alkan, who were both present.
At a seminar on Israeli film during the festival, Wolman talked freely about the difficulties he had in finding an appropriate actress for the lead role. At first he was looking for an actress who spoke with a Russian accent, who knew Yiddish and could play piano. After interviewing 250 young women, he found Tamar Alkan. Her Hebrew does not have a Russian accent; she doesn't know Yiddish, and doesn't play the piano! But Wolman knew immediately that she would be perfect. And she didn't disappoint him! She resonates the innocence, naivety and idealism which are so much a part of the Israel of the early pioneering period. Wolman himself referred to the naivety of that time by saying that it is fading today and Israelis are afraid to think that it might disappear.
Tamar Alkan plays the role of Fanya, a woman who survives a pogrom in Russia at the end of the 19th century and flees with her little baby to Palestine. She goes to live with a group of religious Jews from Tsfat. But she is not from a religious background. They speak a fluent Hebrew, but her Hebrew is broken and stilted, perhaps a reflection of her broken spirit. She was traumatized back in Russia, and as a result cannot touch anyone or be touched. As her Hebrew improves, so does her emotional capacity for love and physical contact.
The film is based on a novel by Shulamit Lapid which was published in 1982 – a hundred years after the immigrants of Rosh Pina came to settle in that valley.