Human by Yann Arthus Bertrand

Watched this movie today for a second time; the running time is 3 hours and 10 minutes, and it's available for free in a number of languages. I've also managed to watched several supplementary short documentaries about the making of the film and listened separately to the sound track. Actually I think this may be my all-time favourite film. It's hard to see with dry eyes. The storytelling, music and cinematography are consistently incredible - if anything, the movie steadily improves as it goes along. The signature theme, for example, only becomes evident in the second half or last hour. The way the film is constructed and edited contributes to its power and ensures that there is never a boring moment. There are subtleties that I only picked up on the second watching. The image of a man speaking on a phone at the corner of a Manhattan skyscraper is followed by a man standing high among desert cliffs. The film plays a little with our expectations. Derisive comments about "rich people" by a poor man are followed by an obviously "rich" American, who, in turn, quickly wins our sympathy. The impoverished window of an Indian farmer who committed suicide due to the water crisis is followed by an educated upper class Indian, who, despite first impressions, places her simple story in its sharp political context. The director says that this is essentially a political film, and one has to agree, but it is not directly so. It commands our attention by its intense humanity. No film could be more true to its title. It captures the essence of what it means to be a human being in our era, beset by vast inequalities, violence, political turbulence and climate change, as well as the options we face as human beings when confronted by these horrendous difficulties. It gives a voice to the voiceless and permits us to hear stories that would otherwise be unlikely to reach our ears. Eventually it is the beauty of these portraits of ordinary human beings, even more than the magnificent landscapes, that lingers in our memory. It is not just that these humans are unforgettable, but that they also hold us accountable. We are so far removed from some of them that even the work that they are doing is unintelligible to us. People hang out long lengths of fabric over a wooden construction for what purpose? A human chain of men move earth with shovels to achieve what? Men rummage through a garbage dump to find what? If we thought we understood our world, we find that we are out of touch.

Eventually it's an optimistic film. Nobody forced these people to be interviewed. They agreed because despite everything, they believed in the value of their experience and hadn't given up on either us, the viewers, or, in most cases, themselves.

“Long Day’s Journey into Night”

I saw the Chinese film "Long Day's Journey into Night" (2018) the other day. It's very long, and I only just managed to stay awake till the end (my partner didn't). But still I'm glad I saw it. Visually, it's among the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Every frame is stunning. In terms of the plot, you just have to accept that it's all a jumble - it's deliberately so. Only the 2nd part of the film creates a coherence - but it's the coherence of a dream, where the brain takes many disconnected elements and somehow weaves them into a story. After the film, it's helpful to read what the critics say, in this case. The most helpful essay I found was Roderick Heath's on Film Freedonia.  Seeing this film, and thinking about it more deeply, is sure to offer a lot.

At the film festival

This year at the Jerusalem Film Festival we saw three films: "House of Hummingbird", "Young Ahmed" and "The Invisible Life of Eurydice Gusmao". All three were special. "House of Hummingbird" was the best; a poignant coming-of-age film where not a lot happens (for its 2 hours and 20 minute running time) but it holds the attention and keeps the eyes moist throughout. For a lot of people, this will have been their favourite film in the festival.

"The Invisible Life..." is a very strong movie, at times hard to watch. Full of raw emotions, this film also runs for 2 hours + but it does occasionally feel a bit long. The discomfort that it creates is probably deliberate. I think the filmmakers want us to suspect that the story is not what it seems. There are hints to the film's undercurrents in the name of Eurydice and the references to Greece. This caught my attention immediately because the views of Rio reminded me of the old French film "Orfeo Negro" (which is also of course set in Rio and based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice).

My working hypothesis is that the two sisters, who never find each other despite years of longing and searching, are actually two sides of the same person, which can never be reconciled. When one thinks of it this way, certain aspects of the film begin to fall into place. So although this is a very challenging movie, it somehow works because it keeps one thinking about it long afterwards.

"Young Ahmed" is not, in my opinion, a great movie. It's well-made and interesting, but also annoying, perhaps subtly flawed. The main character, a teenager who falls under the spell of a radical imam, is surrounding by gentle, caring, mostly fairly enlightened people. There are no justifications in sight for his murderous zeal. This may represent a part of reality; it may even be what the film is trying to show. But in reality the state of our societies is less perfect than is shown in the film. There is racism, inequality, and all the rest. There are other films, like "Paradise Now", that make a better presentation of the background, though this one is special in its depiction of a likable, but often inscrutable young man.

Film festival

My main reason to go to the DocAviv film festival, in Tel Aviv, was to see the Snowden film, "Citizen Four", which hadn't been shown in this country till now. I also looked for another film for the same day, and so bought tickets for that too. This was "Monsoon". As it happened, I enjoyed Monsoon more.

"Citizen Four" was much more of a personal film about Snowden than I had anticipated. As the camera rolled on, in Snowden's tiny Hong Kong hotel room, I began to feel a little cramped and uncomfortable about being in the room with him. I was expecting the film to be more about the privacy and surveillance issue itself and began to wonder if people would understand the value of the revelations and not start to feel irked, as I did, by the amount of time spent on the man himself. But perhaps this was just a case of mistaken expectations. Dorit and Yotam, who had joined me, felt fine with the movie and said that the message came through perfectly.

The full-length Canadian documentary, "Monsoon", was meticulously made and interesting throughout. It had everything that I could have wanted it to do with the subject. It approached it scientifically, philosophically, had personal stories and beautiful photography. The narrator told the story with sensitivity and humour. I didn't check whether it has captured any prizes so far, but it certainly deserves to do so.

film festival

This year we decided not to invest very much time in the film festival, since we will already be taking too much time off this summer.  Dorit chose 3 films that we could watch over the weekend.  The first was an American indy film called Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham, who also appeared in the film and was there at the screening to respond to questions.  If Dunham could make such a good film at the age of 23, it seems that we will be hearing more from her.

We saw the second film this morning.  It was White Material, by Claire Denis.  It would have been good, except that the projectionist may have had too much beer.  First we saw about 40 minutes from the middle of the movie.  Then we saw the beginning.  Then we saw the end.  After the titles, they announced that we should remain seated, since apparently they had found a bit more.  But by that time nobody cared and the audience was heading for the exits.

Leaving the film early meant that we had a little more time to kill before the next one.  Since most of the Moshava was closed for the shabbat, we headed over to the cinematheque for lunch.  Then back to Smadar theater to see Please Give by Nicole Holofcener.  This had some similarities to Tiny Furniture as both films were character films set in New York.  Dorit liked it, I liked it less.

And that's probably about it for the film festival this year.  I might have liked to see Budrus today - unfortunately it was full.  I noticed that Yossi Sarid and David Shulman were there by the doors.

Magnificent 7

Watched the last half of the Magnificent Seven on TV. I've never seen it before, or Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. My Dad told me about the Magnificent Seven a couple of times, and mentioned that it was based on the Japanese film - though oddly, when I mentioned Kurosawa's films on a recent visit, he had forgotten that connection completely.

It's a curious film - it seems so naive and uncynical compared to more modern movies. But its characters are full of self-awareness and question their role. Sort of like Arjuna at the beginning of the Mahabharata war. I thought of the allusion however due to another issue. The villain acts honorably, in letting the 7 go free, at the point where he could easily have killed them. He does so because he misjudges Brynner's character, or rather his swadharma. He takes Brynner to be a self-interested gunslinger like himself - and lets him and his men free, according to a code of "honor among thieves". But Brynner is motivated by a different kind of honor, by loyalty towards the village that he was employed to protect. So he returns to fight again. In acting honorably towards the villagers, he acts dishonorably towards the bandits. The last amazed words of the chief bandit, are "Why did you come back? A man like you?"

Krishna, it must be remembered, also acts dishonorably, tricking the great, tragic hero Karna and others, since he is upholding a higher dharma.

Then Brynner, as he rides off into the sunset, says to his other surviving companion that, no matter what, "we always lose." It's the loss of a tyakta-jivita (one who has already given up on life before the battle - the perennial attitude of a kshatriya).

Sky people go home!

Went to see Avatar and sat in the front row, which made the experience even more hallucinogenic. To an audience who thinks it has seen everything, Hollywood continues to say, "You ain't seen nothing yet". And that's true. Avatar is aesthetically amazing.

It's also brilliantly subversive, as Gilad Atzmon points out in Counterpunch: "A Humanist Call From Mt. Hollywood ". Unlike, "The Lord of the Rings" films, to which it can be compared in terms of spectacle, but which some saw as a metaphor for America's war on the "Axis of Evil", there are no questionable messages here. The movie is against war, colonialism, cultural intervention and exploitation. Instead it defends the values of indigenous peoples and legitimizes their resistance. It promotes a worldview based on holism and interconnectedness of all life. Instead of the rapacious aliens that have appeared in so many science fiction films, humans are the aliens, coming to plunder and destroy, under the cover of a phony do-goodism.

At the end of the movie we stir from our seats, remove the 3D glasses that have transported us to this fantasy world, and exit the theater to the realities of life on earth - in my case to the city of Modiin that shoulders its way into the West Bank and whose mayor wants its Road 443 artery to Jerusalem to remain closed off to Palestinians.

Red Corner

Red Corner is a movie about an American who comes afoul of the Chinese legal system. It stars Richard Gere and a lovely Chinese actress named - I think - Ban Lee. I'm writing from an Ipod and it isn't so easy to look up references. Quite a terrible movie. I wasn't so worried about what critics called the hackneyed plot - since I don't watch so many movies that never bothers me. And the silly plot developments didn't worry me too much either. But I felt angry that the American director felt he could give himself so much license in his portrayal of China. I feel few sentiments towards that country, but this kind of xenophobic rubbish, which has a senior Chinese official pull out a gun and dispense summary justice in the courtroom, and other absurdities just add to the cross-cultural bad vibes. It's a pity that Richard Gere, the Buddhist devotee of the Dalai Lama, involved himself in a hateful movie like this. The media always reports with indignation the way in which Israelis or westerners are depicted badly in Arab or Iranian films.

ID Blues (new documentary series by Chaim Yavin)

Last night, in the framework of the Jerusalem Int’l Film Festival, was the first public screening of the first two episodes of Chaim Yavin’s ID Blues (Teudah Kehula in Hebrew).

The series very effectively explores relations between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (i.e., those who carry the blue Israel ID card).

As with his previous series Land of the Settlers, Yavin puts to good use his credentials and qualities. Name recognition, face recognition, and his iconic status in Israeli news media, play no small part in this. His sometimes belligerent interviewing style, acquired through years of grilling politicians, manages to draw people out, and his understanding of what makes good television keeps viewers engaged.

The five-part series was two years in the making - and not all of the work was finished in time for the film festival. Taken together, the series should provide an uncommonly penetrating view of Arabs in Israel, and their relations with the Jewish State.

In 2008, a series like this can’t afford to fail, can’t afford not to spread before Israelis the soiled and ragged fabric of Jewish - Arab coexistence. It’s almost too late. "Don’t talk to me any more of coexistence," says Adel Manaa in the first episode, to a well-meaning sympathizer. "I’m sick of hearing about it. Talk to me of equal rights... If you aren’t doing something to change the situation, you bear responsibility for the consequences."

After the screening, Yavin answered a few questions from the audience. One viewer asked him whether he felt optimistic or pessimistic for the future. Yavin said that he was by nature an optimist, and in this case drew his optimism from the simple fact that Jews and Arabs are in a relationship that eventually has to improve. "Neither they nor we are going anywhere." Yavin emphasizes throughout the series his Zionism, but said afterwards that Zionism has to make some adjustments.

When the adjustments grow large enough to allow both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians to feel equally at home in the state that governs their mutual homeland, perhaps we will all be Zionists.

Thanks to Anat Tsom (co-screenwriter and editor) - whose sharp editing makes every moment of the series count - for inviting us to the screening.