Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Look at Israeli Cinema: Kadosh (1999) with Yaël Abecassis

Our brilliant Cinémathèque here in Luxembourg City is featuring some Israeli Cinema these days, in the form of a festival called Regards sur le cinéma israélien and of course I would not miss it; I must admit it was a first, though. I should maybe also admit that I tend to favour the Palestinians, conflict-wise, if it's not very politically incorrect to say it like that, light-heartedly.

The programme, which goes on till mid-December, includes newer and older films, like Revolution 101, a Mike Moore-ish documentary by Doron Tsabari, Three Days and a Child (1969) that is part of the Israeli New Wave (yes, they do have one, as everybody else!), La Visite de la fanfare (2007) that won the Jury Prize at Cannes' section Un Certain Regard, and many more, most of them of festival circuit and art-house cinema fame.

According to the cinema historian Ariel Schweitzer, Israeli cinema is from the beginning of the 80s "a cinema of the Other", when the Other is, as Emmanuel Levinas and many other philosophers put it, the opposite of Me -and Me is a male potent human being that does everything right. The Other, in other words, may be: women, homosexuals, non-believers, and Palestinians, in this case.

The film I went to see tonight was depicting, with bleak colours, the sad lives of two such Others; two women from Mea Shearim, the Hasidic Jewish quarter of Jerusalem "tyrannised by men in the name of religious belief". After A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers, that gave me a funny insight, I now got to see how painful is the adhesion to Orthodox Judaism from a woman's perspective: the sole reason of their existence is to keep the house clean, cook meals for the husband and keep him undistracted to study the Talmud; and of course to raise mainly male children, so that they will also study the Talmud. Kadosh by renowned director Amos Gitai definitely takes a stance against over-religiousness with his harsh images, thank God. For that reason it was very well received everywhere else, except for its own country.
Yaël Abecassis the very attractive lead was here with us tonight to talk about the film and take our questions. Only through the Q & A session I actually realised what a great deed making that film was; for the biggest part of the shooting in "sacred" places they had no permission. All the actors were not religious themselves and it involved a great deal of work to incarnate one. Especially for Mrs Abecassis, I saw with my own eyes how difficult it is for a charming, modern woman full of energy (or should I say girl power?), that she is, to try and shun herself, to keep her character quiet and calm, in order to depict the obedient Rivka. The protagonist showed up in violet velvet and high heels to talk about her work with women within her organisation "Spirit of Women", the witch-hunt, to tell us stories of Israeli women that due to their religion are giving up their personal life to devote to their family and to state that we will win in the end (even if we have to be killed and beaten up first!).

I was very happy -and I guess the rest of the audience, as well- that the heavy weight of the subject matter and of the unhappy ending was lifted a bit with the actresse's presence and wit. "It is a strong, a moving film" was the first thing she said, admitting that she has not seen it for 10 years, ever since the competition in Cannes Film Festival, startling us with the realisation that she looks ten years younger. Maybe because of her positive mood and devotion to her work; because, there is no such thing as take it easy in Israeli film industry. The shooting lasts around one month and a half, she told us, while the shooting for Kadosh was wrapped in no more than 11 days.

Find the Festival's programme here.

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