“Look Into My Eyes” is a personal exploration into antisemitism (mostly in Hebrew) by the Israeli filmmaker, Naftaly Gliksberg. I saw it last week at the International Human Rights Film Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center.
It helped that Mr. Gliksberg did a Q & A after the screening. Before learning his intent directly, the film seemed disjointed and self-indulgent. Gliksberg wants it seen by non-Jews; he says that he’s bringing a mirror to Christians, helping them to see the conscious and subconscious elements of prejudice in how they view Jews. (He deals only with Christian antisemitism, nothing about Muslims or the Arab-Israeli conflict.)
The title comes from the final episode in Gliksberg’s journey through Europe and the USA when he confronts neo-Nazis in Germany. He is cordial, seemingly almost becoming friends with an old man named Mahler, on trial for Holocaust denial, a criminal offense in Germany. (Mahler was, in fact, recently convicted.) One of his supporters tells Gliksberg that he cannot look a Jew in the eye, because of the pure evil that lurks behind his gaze. Gliksberg plays with the Nazi, even good-naturedly embracing him as he encourages him to look. But the man backs away in disgust and anger.
The Israeli’s foray into Germany also involves a visit to a couple with a teenage daugher, all of whom were ex-neo-Nazis. The interaction with the girl is especially illuminating; it becomes clear that the “movement” had given them a sense of identity and belonging – more important than the actual ideology of hate. She recalls the movement songs and activities with genuine longing.
Gliksberg began his film with his visit to a Passion Play in Poland, where members of the mob and the Sanhedrin are clearly identifiable as Jews responsible for the persecution of Jesus. The Poles he interviews profess no antipathy toward Jews, but some reveal their belief in stereotypes about how rich, clever and clannish Jews are.
By way of contrast, a Passion Play at a rural American pentecostal church, where worship includes “speaking in tongues,” provides no such antisemitic imagery. In fact, the congregation enthusiastically welcomes their guest from Israel and the pastor professes his love for Israel and the Jewish people.
Toward the end of his visit, however, the pastor is caught on camera in an outburst against Israelis for being rude – in the way that Israelis often are because of their habit of directness. The pastor concludes that in the future the “Jewish people” would miss “Christian money” if this coarseness deters Christian tourists from coming in great numbers. This bursts out as a sudden stream of consciousness, with the minister ruminating at the end of a long day, too tired perhaps to filter his thoughts.
Then I saw “Borat” on TV over the weekend. This farce by the incredibly talented English-Jewish comic and actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, includes an outrageous dose of antisemitism in the plot. Cohen plays a faux-TV journalist from Kazakhstan, who is incredibly primitive, crude and bigoted. If you’re familiar with Hebrew, you may notice that much of his faux-Kazakh dialogue is Hebrew. (Cohen was a member of the Labor-Zionist youth group Habonim Dror and spent a year in Israel on kibbutzim.) His Scottish fiancee (or wife by now) converted to Judaism and says that she is quite observant.