Fourteen years ago, with the vision of Lia van Leer and in cooperation with Ma'aleh (the educational institute, not the film school), I founded and directed the Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Since that time, the Jewish Film Festival has become an annual tradition, taking place each year during Chanukah week.
I want to write here about two dramatic films that I previewed this week that will be screened at the upcoming festival.
The first is a short drama about the ultra-orthodox community. The film is called Tshuva (Repentance) and is directed by Yaron Dahan. Lately, perhaps due to the fact that Rama Burshtein's Fill the Void has been wildly successful and is still playing in movie theaters in Israel, there has been a new interest in films that deal with the ultra-orthodox population.
Tshuva, a stylized and dramatic short (40 minutes), is about a crisis of religious faith. A Hassid loses his family in a terrible car accident. Searching for meaning, he roams the bleak Tel Aviv streets, mostly at night, where his despair is reflected in the people he meets. First, he encounters a man who lost his wife in a work accident back in Kiev. This man is now living on the streets and tells him, God's wrath is "at least a point of contact between Him and us." Then he meets an older man in a bar who hates God because of what the Nazis did to him. But the Hassid hesitantly insists that we were being punished for our sins. He has recurring visions from the night of the accident. But, like Job, he must figure out how to get on with his life.
In a completely different style, and on a completely different subject -- Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Thierry Binisti is a full-length feature film about the forging of a friendship across the divide between a Palestinian and an Israeli. Tal is a 17-year-old daughter of French immigrants, living in Jerusalem. Naim is a teenager living in Gaza. One day, after a particularly gruesome suicide bombing in Jerusalem, Tal writes a naive letter -- asking questions about why would anyone become a suicide bomber, how can anyone take innocent lives -- and places it in a bottle and has her brother (who is serving in the army in Gaza) throw it into the sea near the Gaza Strip. Naim and his friends find the bottle and Naim begins an e-mail correspondence with Tal. At first their interactions are filled with animosity and stereotypes, then finally a tentative friendship is formed.
There is some complexity to the story, showing the issues on both sides and the Palestinian family is quite believable and authentic (the French family is not as well-acted and therefore less authentic). The suspicions, the ongoing suicide bombings and counter retaliations by the Israeli army, and the attempt to get on with life as usual are similar on both sides. What makes this film special is the development from naivety to a tentative friendship and from there to a new political consciousness and mutual understanding.
Bottle in the Gaza Sea is a French, Canadian, Israeli co-production.