Fourth Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

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Fourth set of notes from the Jerusalem Film Festival from Tikkun’s correspondent Olga Gershenson!
“The Man with the Iron Heart”–a historical drama about Reinhard Heydrich, his rise to power, and his eventual death by the hand of the resistance in Prague. It’s an international co-production (directed by a French filmmaker, Cedric Jimenez), and as such is suffering from the usual problem of WWII films: all the dialogue is in English, with Germans speaking with hysterical German accents and Czechs with a faux Slavic one. The filming of the Nazi parades and such is a bit fetishistic, reeling in all these crisp uniform and colorful insignia. Finally, and that’s the main problem, how do you make a movie about an architect of the Final Solution, and make it NOT about the Jews? In a two-hour-film, the Jewish question is mentioned literally once, in a brief scene set at the Villa Wannsee meeting. No Jews appear in the Kristallnacht massacres. Even in the scenes of mass executions by Einsatzgruppen, the identity of the victims is not marked in any way. It appears that the Nazis just shot all these innocent Czechs and Poles. Alternatively, there are tons of Christian symbolism–the crosses, the prayer, the churchy music. The two resistance fighters who fatally wounded Heydrich, die in a flooded church, martyrs in a kind of eternal baptism. One of the last shots of the film is a floating rosary with a cross.

Second film of the day was phenomenal: “Museum”by Ran Tal (“Children of the Sun,” “Garden of Eden”), a nuanced record of the life of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The filmmaker’s perspective seems to be that of a fly on the wall–no didactic voiceover, no grand pronouncements–but in fact the film is very sensitive to politics, which are evident not only in the official ceremonies with governmental brass present, but also in the backstage decisions and even mundane everyday of the museum. Two examples: the IDF officers on tour of the Shrine of the Book, “What is it to you?” asks the guide. The answer is, the Qumran manuscripts provide the state with an evidence of at least 2,000 of the Jewish life in the region. Another example is from a curatorial meeting: the Museum has a vast collection of gorgeous Palestinian and Druze embroidery. What is to be done with it, asks the curator. You display it, and it will be an act of patronizing of the Museum towards minority culture. You don’t display it, and it’s an erasure of the said culture. You can’t win. In conclusion, the curators, Jews and Palestinians together, decide just to preserve the treasure the best they can, until the times change…
Finally,“Longing”–a tragic-comic drama by Savi Gabison, known in Israel for his own kind of lyrical comedy. It’s set in Acre, but politics is not an issue there. Like so many other narrative features I saw here, the focus is family. The film opens when Ariel (Shai Avivi) discovers that the old flame (Assi Levy) had a baby from him 20 years ago, and in the same conversation he learns that this newly-found son just died. The rest is a kind ofscrewball tragedy of love and loss, reaching to magic realism. Not my favorite film, but it is genuinely funny and performances are stellar. And then, after then, late at night, I ended up at the special screening of “The Dybbuk” (1937), one of the last Yiddish films shot in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust. It’s a story of possession and exorcism, a kind of Yiddish “Romeo and Juliette.” If there is a way to see this film–this is it: at night, under the stars, at the site of the former leprosy asylum (a cultural center today), accompanied by live orchestra, with simultaneous sound effects. It was pure magic.

Screening of "The Dybbuk" at site of former leprosy asylum. Photo by Olga Gershenson

Screening of "The Dybbuk" at site of former leprosy asylum. Photo by Olga Gershenson

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