Fourth set of notes from the Jerusalem Film Festival fromTikkun’scorrespondent Olga Gershenson!

The truly important film of today was “Conventional Sins” (the Hebrew title is ידיד נפש), an absolutely heartbreaking and brave documentary about sexual abuse of children in Haredi communities. As sensitive the the treatment of the subject is, it’s still hard to watch. The main character, whose Yiddish name was Meilich (today he left the fold and goes by Meir), tells his story in the film, but he is not a passive subject, rather he takes almost a director’s role. On screen, we see him holding auditions with other former Haredi young men to “play” him and his predator in his story. These men, as it turned out, had similar tragic experience of being abused. The auditions take the place of reenactments and transform on screen into really honest conversations about their personal stories and their community. The important thing is that the film doesn’t position itself as anti-Haredi, rather, as Meilich/Meir said after the screening, it’s about children. There are other communities, he pointed out, where terrible things are happening to kids, whom society fails to protect.

Cast & crew of CONVENTIONAL SINS at Jerusalem Film Festival. Photo by Olga Gershenson

Cast & crew of CONVENTIONAL SINS at Jerusalem Film Festival. Photo by Olga Gershenson

The very last film of the festival for me – “Doubtful,” by Eliran Elya. A strange film – at first it looks like another “Dead Poets Society” – Assi, a young filmmaker from Tel Aviv comes to a god-forsaken place in Israel’s projects to teach a group of teens with a criminal past and present. You know how this goes, he’d eventually get through to them, the main thug would turn out to have a heart of gold, and they’d all make a transformative film together at the end, healing their wounds on the way. That happens, in part, and we even see the filming of the said film. But then, a turn: instead of Assi, the artist, getting to them, it’s the young thugs who get through to him. In fact, despite his poetry and dabbing in existentialism, he’s not too different from them – he is teaching them as a community service, his sentence for dangerous drunk driving. It starts with violence, and continues with even greater violence – no happy ending there.

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Olga Gershensonis a Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


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