The force of truth: films from Israel

 

Fran Assa of Shorewood reviews current film and finds a reveal of women’s experiences in ways that are achingly true, for the most part.

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Something is happening in Israeli/Israeli-Palestinian film production that is unique. It is the deliberate and forceful exploration of fundamental philosophical questions: what is a man, and what is a woman. And the depth in which the Israeli movie scene explores the latter question brings it far beyond any competition.

Fran Assa

 

I have come to this conclusion after sampling just a few movies. I’m sure there are many others. The movies are: “The Wedding Plan” (2017), “In Between” (2016), “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (2014), and “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” (2017).

The first three movies treat large issues that affect women in big ways, marriage, divorce and equality, but they do it totally without glitz, without stereotype, without the pressure to sell to large audiences. Yet they are not personal films, not art films in the sense of the real focus being on the auteur and his creativity. Most importantly they reveal women’s experiences in ways that are achingly true, for the most part.

“The Wedding Plan” is surely the strangest of the three. It is a combination of Talmudic thought and Cinderella, shown through the eyes of an Orthodox Jerusalem woman who knows that outside marriage she has no place in her community. What is strange is that she decides to accept this restriction on her life, and trust in the divine presence to make it work for her. She succeeds, finally, only by doing nothing beyond setting a wedding date, inviting her guests and hiring the hall, even though there is no groom to complete the event. The movie breaks many feminist rules, in the name of faith, and yet it exposes us to 12 days in a woman’s life in which she interacts with a variety of men in the most truthful manner she can. She has no time nor energy for games. Thus, how she relates to the men is feminist, even though the results are by divine intervention. We are given dialogue that is startling in its truth, and acting that reveals her turmoil and is riveting in its naturalness.

Much the same is true of “Gett,” another film based on a woman’s Orthodox life. Here too, the questions asked by the heroine in her attempt to get a religious divorce are piercingly serious.  We see her as she is seen by the men who have legal and religious power over her life—as a lesser object –– and how the heroine prevails through sheer grim persistence in her knowledge of her own worth.

“In Between” is superficially different from these movies in showing the experiences of three very different Arab women in Jerusalem.  But they face the same issues as the Orthodox women, while at the same time giving us a slice of life in Israel that is probably new to most of us.  Here, again we see the glaring stereotypes that women are constantly being forced to face –– particularly from their own communities — both Arab Christian and Arab Muslim. With its humor, unique yet universal message, liveliness and large budget cinematic beauty, the movie probably has the greatest general audience appeal.

And now the movie about the lives of men –– “Norman” with Richard Gere and Lior Ashkenazi, is an unlikely big screen story about two men with a “gift for friendship” caught in the dangerous currents of politics. Yet it is not sexual and it is not political. It is a small character study that would work very well in serious theater. We are given what aches in these men, what is unfulfilled, and what is tragic as they pursue their dreams. It pits their internal selves against external perceptions of them that they are forced to negotiate. I can only think of one other movie that succeeds like this: “Being There” (1979), with Peter Sellers. (Except there was never much happening inside Chauncey Gardiner’s head.)

Fran Assa of Shorewood is a local attorney and film buff.