Bruno Bombs, Students Shine at Cinema South

Haim Watzman

The Sapir College faculty member who introduced Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch, screened at this year’s Cinema South Festival in Sderot, said that Dumont seeks in his films to understand the intricacies and intimacies of religious faith. Hadewijch is a technically fine, formally intriguing film, one in which it is clear that the director has given great thought to each shot and frame. But for a film about faith it is curiously soulless.

The story is about a girl named Celine, who has, as a pre-novice at a convent, taken the religious name Hadewijch, after a medieval visionary who wrote of her passion for Jesus. Her superiors, worried at her over-asceticism, send her back to her huge, ornate, and loveless home. For a convent girl, she has surprisingly few compunctions about allowing herself to be picked up in a café by a low-life from the projects whose devout Muslim brother convinces her to take part in a terror operation. Throughout her preparations, and in the film’s coda, in which Celine seems somehow to have survived the explosion, she insists that her only great love is for Jesus. We see that love, but we do not feel it.

The next day’s screening of Dumont’s Flanders left me with the same sense that Dumont’s carefully planned exteriors do not connect with the interiors of his characters.

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Beyond Words: Harutyun Khachatryan’s “Return to the Promised Land”

Haim Watzman

I misstated the director’s name in the original version of this post. My apologies.

In this friendless week for Israel it’s refreshing and instructive to get away to Sapir College’s annual Film Festival of the South and be reminded that loneliness is sometimes a fact to be lived with, and that history gives us brethren among the nations, if we would only look.

Harutyun Khachatryan “Return to the Promised Land” (1991) observes a young Armenian family returning to its battered home and farm in the wake of the great earthquake, the destructive force of which can be seen everywhere, and the breakup of the Soviet Empire, a distant event invisible in the landscape. The family is a real one, filmed from the beginning of the winter to the end of spring, but Khachatryan structures the film as a story–as a silent film, in fact, for there is no dialogue and relatively little sound. A young father, weighed down by worry, works in the field, reestablishes his livestock, watches over his family. His wife labors in the kitchen garden, draws water, watches the children, has a baby. At first the family seems to be alone; gradually other families join them and, in the end, when spring is well under way, an acrobat and two musicians come to town.

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The Scene At Cinema South I: “Afghan Star” and “A Love During The War”

Haim Watzman

Cinema South International Film Festival, June 8, 2009One presents an American Idol spinoff in Afghanistan as a training ground for democracy and the other how the decay of society under years of guerilla war has made rape the common fate of millions of women in central Africa. Havana Marking’s Afghan Star and Osvalde Lewat-Hallade’s A Love During the War, screened yesterday and today at Sapir College’s Cinema South International Film Festival in Sderot, southern Israel, offer glimpses of margins of the world that we hear of only when there is a genocide, or an earthshaking natural disaster, or a war so bloody that it briefly jars us out of our apathy. Tyranny, war, poverty, and distance from the West weaken and silence people, but the women who suffer them are often doubly silenced. Here some of them speak out.

Afghan Star follows an instance of that most insipid of modern entertainment genres, the televised popular song competition, and shows us how it has played an important role in building democracy and human rights in a society split by ethnic and religious conflict. Following the fall of the Taliban, Afghans are allowed to sing again—music and dancing having been banned by the fundamentalist regime, along, of course, with television, film, and freedom for women. An enterprising producer on one a new private television station decides to produce a song contest on a shoestring, and the film follows several of the contestants—including two women—from the program’s first airing to the night on which the winner is declared.

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Cinema of the South: Celebrating Sderot and Kerala

Haim Watzman

Sderot was celebrating yesterday–it’s been celebrating all week, in fact. Who cares about the missiles coming over from Gaza when you can catch a good flick–lots of them? The Cinema South Festival, held in Sderot each year under the sponsorship of the film school at adjacent Sapir College, is one of the most stimulating, and heart-warming cultural events on Israel’s calendar.

The day’s only Red Alert happened just as we emerged from our rental car next to the housing project where my daughter, Mizmor (finishing up her first year in the animation program) lives. We scurried to safety–well, it’s all relative–under one of the building’s outdoor stairwells until, seconds later, we heard a distant boom.

After dropping off some home-cooked food in her apartment, we drove over to the Sderot Cinematecque. The festival was in full swing. “South” here doesn’t mean Alabama and Georgia-it means Israel’s poor, forgotten, and bombarded Negev region. Sapir students were quaffing beers and muching on sandwiches and sticky sweets while a Kerala band played songs that sent my wife Ilana-whose late father grew up in Bombay, after his family moved there from Baghdad-into dreamy nostalgia.

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