Israel’s film industry has made remarkable strides in recent years, as has its related arena of television production. I only saw two offerings at this year’s 24th Israel Film Festival in New York a couple of weeks ago, but they were both memorable.
“Bruriah” is a somewhat enigmatic feature that involves a contemporary religious family in Jerusalem, on the cusp of Modern Orthodoxy and the more rigid “Black Hat” world of ultra-Orthodoxy. The attractive wife in a youthful 40-ish couple, Bruriah, searches for the last remaining copy of a book her father wrote about 35 years before, which was banned by a renowned rabbi for exploring an off-color little story in the Talmud.
Her father expanded upon a brief commentary by Rashi, the great medieval Talmudic authority, who had recounted the tale of Bruriah, an intellectually sharp and self-confident woman brought low by her scholarly husband. This man had recruited one of his students to seduce her—supposedly proving that a woman’s intellect is shallow and her character inferior to that of men.
The modern-day Bruriah’s father was excommunicated for refusing to renounce his work, and copies of his book were publicly burned. The Talmudic tale intertwines with flashbacks to the book-burning incident years before and the contemporary struggles of today’s Bruriah and her daughter—who wants to enroll in a religious seminary that trains young women seeking to break the Orthodox ban against female rabbis.
On the surface, Bruriah’s struggle is to find that one unburnt copy of her father’s book; more fundamentally it’s about her quest for fulfillment as a person, which includes her need to express physical desire. This last part plays out boldly, but not as one might think.
The second film, “For My Father,” is a more usual story for addressing the conflict with the Palestinians, but in a fresh way. It will begin a commercial run in the US shortly.
Terek is driven to Tel Aviv by his handlers to explode himself in a crowded market place. But his detonator malfunctions and he finds a small electronics shop that will order the part he needs to repair it. The cantankerous but kindly shopkeeper has no idea what he needs the part for; in the meantime, Terek agrees to repair his leaky roof in exchange for the part. During the course of his weekend wait in their home at the back of the shop, he discovers the tragedy of their lives—the fact that their son, their only child, died in a recklessly mishandled army training exercise.
Terek also meets Keren, a hip young person replete with body piercings and provocatively revealing clothing, who has fled her rigidly religious family. They become almost inseparable.
And we learn what has motivated Terek to become a suicide bomber. His father discovers that his son is talented in football (i.e., soccer) and gets him on the soccer team representing the Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth. But he must struggle against closures, as the Arab-Palestinian conflict deepens, to get his son into Israel from their native Tulkarem on the West Bank. By hook or crook he succeeds, only to arouse the suspicion of local Palestinian nationalists who threaten him in the belief that he is a collaborator with the Israelis.
Terek volunteers for his fatal mission to redeem his father’s name. Hence, the film’s English title; the actual translation from the Hebrew is “Weekend in Tel Aviv.”
This is a deadly serious movie that plays largely as a comedy. See it if you can.