Yom Ha’atzmaut Film Night

Created on 19/5/2005

A large and animated group attended a very successful Israeli film screening and discussion at our synagogue on May 16th. The films were brought to us by Shlomit Naor who is a Shlicha. Her job being to introduce Israel’s rich and varied culture to us. I had been asked to assist with this endeavour by Rabbi Rebecca and I am glad to state that her idea resulted in an enjoyable evening for all who attended despite the downpour.

The films were each very different but had a common theme in that they were all produced from within a “Jewish” film school. The reason for the quote being that although one would anticipate that all the film school’s in Israel were Jewish, the fact is that all of them except the one screening to us, are secular in their outlook. Our “Jewish” film school might otherwise be described by most people as frum, or charedi in its view of the world. That makes it the only one of its type in the world. Ironically one of its students who talked on the way it works mentioned that they take some of their inspiration from the Iranian national film school, since that has much of the same religious film making agenda and problems, albeit from an Islamic perspective.

The resulting films shared this “religious” perspective. For example when a girl and a boy get together in these films they barely touch, they don’t kiss and they certainly never get intimate. Later in the discussions that punctuated the evening the student stated that he felt that this type of Israeli cinema was more expressive and metaphorical than that enjoyed in many places, especially America. He went on to make another sweeping statement about how there were a huge number of blood soaked scenes in American films and that these reflected the lack of a moral centre in that country.

As the evening’s Chairperson I took exception to this broad but ill-founded assertion pointing out that there were many examples of American cinema that clearly demonstrated the opposite. American filmmakers created film grammar and the use of metaphor and, in fact, most of the other film making tools we now all take for granted. Specifically I mentioned the riot scene with the Cossacks in “Doctor Zhivago”. The horror of the sequence is imaginary. In fact we witness the scene through the character’s eyes, the entire scene being played out literally concentrating on Julie Christie’s eyes. One could also point to the masterful use of editing techniques and music in the famous shower scene in “Psycho”. Again the viewer thinks he has seen something that he never has. You never see a single knife connecting with the actress in the shower!

The films shown included an experimental film about a girl who wanted to be a ballerina which I think it would be fair to state was a little too experimental for most of the audience. There was another, more conventional film, about a bride to be trying to totally control her wedding day and finding she couldn’t control anything. This was more generally accepted but again the feeling one got was lukewarm. More interesting were the comments made by the student filmmaker who was clearly convinced of the film’s unquestioned excellence. I have to question this as both a current professional film producer and a former head of three film schools. The films were OK, but technically not very ambitious nor evidence of huge or special talent. There is another way to view this and that is to accept the assertion that these are more about expressing a way of life worthy of our time rather than a pure means of entertainment.

The third film was a very different piece, a documentary by the director daughter of a middle-aged couple. The man, her father, had become ultra religious whilst the mother had not, and had no wish to. The consequences were that he appeared to be a happy man, whilst the woman seemed infinitely sad to this writer, and to many others. This was a brave movie, which surprised and moved many of us. I felt sorry for the woman. Several audience members expressed the view, that I share, which questioned a situation in which the woman has to give way to the man who is religious in these circumstances.

Shlomit quoted a story in which two trains came face to face on a single track. The question put was that if one of the trains were full and the other empty that should give way? The response was that the empty train should give way. This being a metaphor for the woman giving way to the man who was full of religious joy.

I would respond that the empty train has no less right to proceed than the full train. Who can say that the empty train is not going to soon pick up an even more valuable cargo, even if that cargo might be secular!

We then broke for magnificent tea, cakes and goodies provided by my wife. Avril Klinger did a magnificent catering job despite having to venture out on the buying spree during a rainfall of almost biblical proportions. Assistance was provided by the excellent Sue Powell and Jennifer Sclaire. Thanks to everyone for all their work.

The screenings were closed by a jolly “dating” film with that ultra religious difference. No nonsense or hanky panky as my mum would have called it. Despite this the film was funny, touching and very much enjoyed by the audience who spontaneously applauded when it ended.

The evening had been a triumph and turned a modest profit. We learned more about a part of Israel normally not seen and all of us enjoyed the experience. Once again, thanks to everyone, especially the audience for attending and enlivening the debate, Rabbi Rebecca for the opportunity, Shlomit for the films and information and Avril for the catering.