A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015)
Cast includes: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Amir Tessler, Gilad Kahana (Remi)
Director: Natalie Portman (first feature film)
Genre: Drama | Biography | History (95 min) Mostly in Hebrew with subtitles
“Let’s make up a story…” It’s bedtime, and this is Fania and Amos’s routine. The year is 1947; the place is Jerusalem… not the Jerusalem of today. Having been built and destroyed, built and destroyed countless times, her scar tissue is what’s most prominent. “Jerusalem is a black widow, who devours her lovers while they are inside her,” says Amos in a voice over. He’s recounting the last year of his mother’s life… “She was 38 when she died.” Before the horrors of WWII, her family lived comfortably in Poland with their servants and other luxuries. They were the lucky ones, escaping into the woods and surviving while everyone else they knew was killed. They dreamed of Israel, but this isn’t the Israel of their dreams… there are curfews, food shortages and hardships of all kinds.
“It’s here,” says Arieh, Amos’s father. At last, his book has been published, and the package arrives. The family celebration should be a happy one… Fania makes borscht. “It’s slightly sour,” says Arieh’s mother. “Borscht is supposed to be sweet. Even a gentile can make borscht.” Fania can do nothing to please her in-laws. Later that evening, she has something to tell her young son. “If you have to choose between hurting someone and telling a lie... be kind.” Kindness isn’t always in great supply here in Jerusalem. “There’s enough room for both Jews and Palestinians.” Not everyone agrees. It’s the run-up to the vote in the UN… the one that makes Israel an official state. “We’ll never be bullied again just for being Jews.”
Based on the book from Amos Oz, the film is specific to Jerusalem at the birth of Israel. Had the family lived in Tel Aviv, maybe it would have been a happier existence, but Jerusalem was a town suffering from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, as were her inhabitants… each with his or her own backstory. It’s not the optimistic view of Israel’s birth we got in the 1960 film, Exodus. It’s an intensely personal story, attempting to understand why Amos Oz’s mother ended her life at 38. Natalie Portman, who directs the film and plays Fania, wanted to bring Oz’s memoir to the screen because Israel is her homeland, and she feels personally connected to the story. Even though she’s well known to American audiences, this film, which is her first directorial project, won’t feel American. It’s an Israeli film with an Israeli cast, and it has the feel and texture of a foreign film. When we think of the remarkable story of Israel, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t entirely about the promise… there was darkness, too. “Everything is about to change,” they say when the UN vote reaches the required 33. The promise of peace is palpable… “Therefore choose life.” But not all could.
2 popped kernels
From Amos Oz’s memoir of the difficult birth of the state of Israel
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Israel 1947
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking