"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.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Combining the Personal and National

One of my favorite documentary film styles is the personal documentary which combines the personal and the national.

In her new prizewinning film, Wall, filmmaker Moran Ifergan combines her own personal story with so many of the issues that divide us in contemporary Israel.  A graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, Ifergan is from a traditional, religious, Moroccan family in Beersheba.  She herself was religious until the age of 18. Two of Moran Ifergan’s previous documentary films were reviewed on this blog.

Ifergan has made an interesting artistic decision to combine a personal soundtrack of phone-calls, discussions and What’s App messages together with visuals, mostly from the women’s section at the Kotel.  She spent a full year filming at the Kotel, around the clock, searching for meaningful and life-transforming events.  Why the Kotel?  She admits that the film deals with faith, gender issues, problems of young couples, loneliness, and family – on the personal level.  And with issues of holiness, religion, politics, and nationalism -- on the national level. What better venue could be chosen to talk about questions of religion in her life and issues of nationalism -- and combine it all with the intimacy and confessional nature of talking about her own personal story. 
And why is the soundtrack the only place where the personal exists in the film, creating a distance and making it so that we never see the filmmaker, only hear her conversations throughout?  She offers two reasons for this: “I use my personal story to talk about something more universal. Also, I wanted to deal with how a personality can be represented by sound and not by picture.”  It’s amazing how well this technique succeeds, creating two parallel stories – one in the soundtrack and one in the visual.

Ifergan is a young mother going through a divorce.  Her recorded conversations are with her mother, her sister, and her close friend.  Her traditional and old-fashioned mother does not approve of her life choices – not of her filmmaking and not of her splitting with her husband of three years.  On the other hand, her best friend relates to her loneliness and lifestyle crisis honestly and openly in their recorded conversations. 

One night, along comes a religious woman who tells her that she can see in her eyes that she is missing inner peace.  And she proceeds to tell her all about mikveh, and the spirit of God that you can let into your life by fulfilling the laws of family purity. This dialogue is an example of the filmmaker’s letting us in to encounter her own grappling with religion and a religious lifestyle. She also draws our attention to the ultra-nationalism of Jerusalem Day with its flag waving and its indoctrination of our young people.  We catch a glimpse of the military ceremonies at the Kotel and the tears of Memorial Day.  But most importantly we become involved up close and intimate with dozens of young girls and women praying at the Kotel.

Wall (documentary, 64 minutes) provides a fascinating look at issues that are important to us – how we relate to Jerusalem, to the Kotel, to a religious lifestyle, to anti-Arab feeling and fanatic nationalism.  The film is available from Cinephil.

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