Second Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival


​More notes from the JerusalemFilm Festival from Tikkun’s correspondent Olga Gershenson!
A documentary “Gaza Surf Club“–exactly what it sounds like–a quixotic group of surfing enthusiasts in Gaza, struggling against the double burden of occupation and patriarchy (girls are not allowed to surf or even swim). The human story is very touching, but the film-making is too predictable. And then, a real revelation, “Holy Air” by writer/director Shady Srour, and starring Latitia Eido. Absurdist comedy set in Nazareth, and very clearly paying tribute to Elia Suleiman’s sense of irony. Beautiful, nuanced, funny, straddling the lines between issues at stake for Palestinians, citizens of Israel, and universal issues of love, loss, sex, and faith. The cinematography is such that I could freeze any frame and put it on the wall. What is it with Nazareth and filmmakers? One is better than another.
The last film of the day, “Rachel Agmon.” It’s not political, it doesn’t raise any important issue, and has no ideological agenda, in other words, I didn’t expect it to be interesting, but I fell in love with it. Here is the story: a filmmaker, Yair Agmon, was born because his mother, a 40-year old single religious woman, had an affair with a hot married father of seven kids. 30 years later, Yair takes two very different trips with each one of his parents and talks to them about their love affair and how he came to be. The contrast between the parents and between the trips (a pilgrimage to Jewish graves in Ukraine with his mom and a vegas-style cruise with his dad) is so hysterical, his revelations are so dramatic, that I actually was reduced to tears from both crying and laughing. It should be a hit at every Jewish film festival in the US.
Tehran Taboo”–an Iranian animation feature exposing the underbelly of life under strict morality laws. I’ve never seen so many blowjobs in an animated film… A visceral feeling of living in Tehran. I don’t know if it comes to the US, but if it does, it’s a must-see.
And then I saw an Israeli “Family” by Veronica Kedarw, which, I think, coins its own genre of family horror, with stylized cinematography and Hitchcockian references. The lead (played by Kedar herself) murders her screwed-up family members, one by one. Very refreshing in the context of family-first Israeli ethos. There is a cult of family in Israel – even secular families have at least 3 children. There is little tolerance for single people, who are under unspoken social pressure to get married and procreate, or at least procreate (sperm-bank babies are popular here). Married couples without children are unheard of and will automatically elicit sympathy and advice. In that context, Veronica Kedar’s new arthouse horror “Family” feels refreshing and rebellious. This is Kedar’s own synopsis:
“In a perfect world, Lily Brooke would have grown up with a father who wanted her in his life, a mother not addicted to pills, an older sister with a conscience, and a brother who didn’t need her naked to help him masturbate. But you can’t always get what you want… and Lily finds herself in her living room, staring at four dead bodies. She goes to her therapist after hours, to confess and make sense of this confusing day. But Lily’s therapist isn’t home. Her teenage, judgmental, insensitive daughter is. Lily finds herself once more, locked in a battle of wills for some serious adult attention.”
Of course, it’s important to understand genre conventions of this beautiful stylized film – had it been drama and not horror, the film would have dealt with the violence and responsibility for it very differently. But as it stands now, the murders in the film feel liberating, whereas the family oppression is all too real…

Woman stands over dead body

Photo courtesy of FAMILY (cinematographer: Christian Huck)

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

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