With the holiday of Passover coming up next week, I thought it would be fun to post info about an Israeli feature film called Passover Fever, directed by Shemi Zarhin (produced in 1995), which takes place on the background of Passover.
The award-winning film portrays a holiday gathering at the old family homestead. It combines elements of family intrigue with hope, love and dedication to solving family issues. This is a film about the dysfunctional family, offering a rich tapestry of characters with psychological issues, the all-suffering Jewish mother, and a new image of the Israeli male – all living in the shadow of having lost one of their sons in a military accident.
Gila Almagor as the Ashkenazi matriarchal figure and Yosef Shiloah as her devoted Sephardi husband are gathered with all of their children and their spouses and children for the Passover holiday. But, as at any family gathering, there are underlying issues and tensions!
Only one child is conspicuously missing -- the son whose memory lingers in the background. In fact, his memory haunts the family the same way that terrorism, political insecurity and memories of war gnaw at the basic fabric of Israeli society in the mid-1990s, even as people believed that peace was drawing near.
Let us carefully analyze one particularly poignant scene, in which the mother and father confront each other over their memories of what they went through during the days immediately following their son's death.
The mother blames the father for going abroad during the period of mourning and leaving her alone to climb the walls with her grief. The father, on the other hand, claims that he was forced to leave and go abroad because her all-encompassing suffering and grief left no room for him to mourn. She was not the only one who had lost a son, he says.
What is he saying between the lines? He is saying – move over and make room for me to grieve. The grieving widow or mother who previously had a monopoly on mourning in Israeli film – and Israeli society -- must now move aside and make room for the newly sensitive and emotional Israeli male, who is begging to be allowed to enter into the realm of mourning – a realm that was once a uniquely female area.
This was the message of the film back in 1995. Today it is already a given that men, in addition to women, can be sensitive, mourn and even cry. We've come a long way.
The film offers authentically-evoked personalities, psychological obsessions and warm family nostalgia all under one roof. Zarhin combines a linear storyline with whimsy and fantasy, as relationships become clarified. Just as falling rain in Baruch Dienar's They Were Ten and blooming tulips in Eli Cohen's Under the Domim Tree signify overwhelming optimism in the wake of past tragedy, so too the unbelievable falling snow in Passover Fever washes away suspicion within the family, signifying hope and renewal for the future.