For more than twenty years, Amos Gitai has brought complex images of Israeli life and the Jewish Diaspora to the screen. Employing both documentary and fictional styles, Gitai uses the camera to reveal the contradictions and ambivalences of history and challenges us to scrutinize these histories anew. With landscape as a pictorial reference, Gitai traverses time and space to posit universal themes of migration, struggle, and alienation. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, a Red Cross helicopter in which Gitai was traveling was shot down by Syrian forces (his latest film, Kippur, tackles this subject). Following this experience, he began using his camera as a means of recording and questioning the historical and political events around him. Both his documentaries and his dramatic films are brutally honest in their presentation of political conflict, personal plight, and the search for meaning. Our tribute to Amos Gitai includes presentations of two of his trilogy seriesThe Diaspora Trilogy (Esther, BerlinJerusalem, Golem The Spirit Of Exile) and The City Trilogy (Devarim, Day After Day, Kadosh)as well as examples of his powerfully original documentary work.
Co-presented with The Boston Jewish Film Festival.
HFA wishes to thank the following individuals for their assistance in organizing this series: Kaj Wilson, artistic director of The Boston Jewish Film Festival; Meir Russo, Israel Film Archive/Jerusalem Cinematheque; and Kevin Gallagher.
(Saturday) 7 pm
Director Amos Gitai in Person
Directed by Amos Gitai
Israel/Great Britain 1986, 35mm, color, 97 min.
With Simona Benyamini, Mohammed Bakri, Julianno Merr
Hebrew with English subtitles
In order to explore issues surrounding present-day conflicts in the Middle East, Gitai conceived an immense tableau vivant that narrates the biblical tale of Esther: the story of a people who fought back against persecution using every means at their disposal and, above all, their intelligence. The film was shot in an abandoned Haifa slum from which Algerians had been evicted. Intrusions of contemporary realitythe honking of a car horn, the passing of a jet planefrequently puncture the film, bringing the ancient and contemporary issues into dialogue. Gitai claims that "in many ways, this is a film about memorymemories which are reflected through image and songs, through tales and music; memories stored in the songs of the Yemenite Jews who crossed the Arabian desert and reached Jerusalem about three generations ago; memories kept alive in Palestinian exile songs."
November 18 (Saturday) 9:30 pm
Alternating between the steamy cafes of Berlin and the arid hills near Jerusalem, Gitai recounts the stories of two historical pioneers "reclaimed from the amber of Israeli mythology." Else Lasker-Schüler is a German Expressionist poet who journeyed to Palestine in the 1930s in the wake of Hitlers rise to power; Tania Shocat is a social activist and early Zionist settler from Russia. Weaving together the plights of these two revolutionary-spirited women, BerlinJerusalem explores the dream of the Promised Land, a dream which becomes a story of broken utopias and struggle. Gitai strips Israels pioneers of their iconic stature and presents them as merely human, with the attendant human emotions of fear, doubt, and hesitation.
November 19 (Sunday) 9:15 pm
Set in present-day Paris, Golem seeks to find modern meanings in the biblical text of Ruth and its commentary on the theme of exile. The film draws on references found in the Spanish Kabbalistic story of the Golem as a spirit of exile and wanderers. Hannah Schygulla plays the other-wordly spirit conjured from earth and clay. The impressive cast includes an array of international actors and directors (with cameos by Sam Fuller, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mireille Perrier, Philippe Garrel, Fabiene Babe) as well as actors from Peter Brookss ensemble and dancers from Pina Bauschs company. The superlative cinematography, at times referencing silent techniques, is by the legendary Henri Alekan, noted for his camerawork on films by Jean Renoir, Abel Gance, Jean Cocteau, and Wim Wenders.
November 24 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Amos Gitai
Israel 1995, 35mm, color, 110 min.
With Assi Dayan, Amos Gitai, Amos Schub
Hebrew with English subtitles
The first part of Gitais trilogy of films about three Israeli cities, Devarim is based on Yaakov Shabatis novel, published in English as Past Continuous and considered one of modern Hebrew literatures strongest works. Cesare is a photographer in his forties who devotes all his energies to the conquest of women, using sex to justify his existence. Thirty-year-old Israel dreams of learning to play the organ but does nothing to achieve this aim and prefers to let Cesare, with whom he lives, support him. Goldman is a little older, a lawyer who lives with his parents and dreams of a great love that will give meaning to his life. The film is a superb portrait of Tel Aviv, a city swept by a desert windthe hamsinthat can drive people crazy, pushing them into either depression or frantic acts of hedonism.
November 24 (Friday) 9:15 pm
Field Diary is a film journal, made in the occupied territories immediately beforeand during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Through encounters (sometimes unwelcome) with Israeli soldiers, interviews with Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees, relentless observation of the everyday minutiae of occupation in the towns and villages, and long-held traveling shots of the disputed landscape, Gitai fashions a remarkable collage that examines, in his words, "how violence against the Palestinians is legitimated." In addition to dealing with the occupation at the everyday level, Gitai is also concerned with exploring the justifications people use to explain their participation in the occupation. "Thus it is also the story of the occupiers inability to face up to his own actions."
November 25 (Saturday) 7 pm
An existential comedy about a half-Arab, half-Jewish Israeli from Haifa, Day After Day is the second installment of Gitais city trilogy. Renowned Israeli actor Moshe Ivgi portrays a forty-something only son who is quietly accustomed to his job in the bakery owned by his parents and takes life as it comes along. Yet change seems imminent everywhere, and its only a matter of time before Gitais protagonist will be forced to confront some realities about himself and his future. Day After Day received an award for Best Feature Film at the 1998 Jerusalem Film Festival, where it was cited for its "personal, ironic, and intense approach to the relationships which reveal the structure of Israeli society."
November 25 (Saturday) 9 pm
Directed by Amos Gitai
Israel/Finland 1981, 16mm, color, 104 min.
With Francis Ford Coppola, Jane Fonda, Betsey Johnson
Divided into two parts ("Rituals," "Elsewhere"), this is a film about American culture at the moment when Ronald Reagan became President in 1981. Featuring conversations with Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, NBCs head of programming, and various figures from the counterculture, American Mythologies is a meditation based on an assemblage of images produced for mass consumption. Gitai has mused that "on the surface, when you look at the U.S., there seems to be no structure. But there is a very clear structure of control. To some extent that is what we tried to show."
November 26 (Sunday) 7 pm
This trilogy about the human landscapes of three major Israeli cities. Here he examines Mea Shearim, a Jerusalem neighborhood that guards itself and its ultra-Orthodox inhabitants from the flow of contemporary urban life and tourist populations. Meir and Rivka have been married for ten years, but because they have no children the rabbi considers their marriage unconsummated. He decides that Meir must repudiate Rivka and marry another woman in order to have children. The protagonists become increasingly trapped between their feelings of love and the dictates of religious law. Critic Kay Armatage has called this film "controversial, rigorous, and profoundly questioning . . . a potentially explosive exploration of religious extremism and patriarchal repression."
November 26 (Sunday) 9 pm
Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv as he left a peace rally. Three weeks later, Amos Gitai returned to Israel in search of traces of this event. For three months he crossed the length and breadth of the country, from the Golan Heights to Gaza, from Tel Aviv to Haifa. "In this melancholic undertaking," wrote Laurent Roth in Cahiers du Cinéma, "no one image seems adequate: the film borrows from all forms of cinema investigative documentary, autobiographic film, road movie, rock moviefinally to be satisfied with none of these. And yet . . . this cinematic mausoleum finds its coherence, gradually weaving the threads of dialogue between the dead man and all those places and people that Gitai convokes to his mental arena."
November 29 (Wednesday) 9 pm
One of the least known of Gitais feature films, The Petrified Garden was shot in Leningrad at the time that city was becoming St. Petersburg again. The story, co-written by Gitai with the great Italian screenwriter and poet Tonio Guerra, concerns an art dealer who travels to post-Soviet Russia in search of the Golem. This quest for the mythical figure becomes a search for meaning, but the prospects of finding either are remote. The film features a score by Simon and Markus Stockhausen, sons of the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.