Is Every Jewish Family Unhappy In Its Own Way? By Julia Khomiakova

in 8th Ankara Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Julia Khomiakova

An evident candidate for the FIPRESCI prize is rare, and in Ankara it was especially important because most films made by women have approximately the same common peculiarities. You can never say that it is a fantastically bad movie for which a lot of money was spent in vain. Any woman who dares to start a career as a film director understands that her capacity of shooting quickly, at low budget and at a certain sure level of quality makes for her strongest advantages in comparison with male colleagues. This provides a stable and strong position for any Ms. Director who makes movies sponsored by cultural foundations, public organizations, grants etc. This also makes it possible to survive getting prestigious international awards when you can hardly remember a woman director capable of making a commercial hit. Well, in Russia there is Svetlana Drouzhinina, whose television series always gain a high rating but her films never attract audiences to theatres.

This year’s winner, To Take a Wife (Ve’Lakhta Lehe Isha), by Ronit Elkabetz (in co-direction with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, who also wrote the script), has little chance to establish a record in box-office. Some spectators just left the screening saying, “It’s too depressing.” Besides, those whose mothers never suffered from neurosis like the protagonist Vivian (Ronit Elkabetz), and whose husbands and fathers are not like Eliahu (Simon Abkarian), just can’t feel how realistic the atmosphere of family crisis created in this movie is, not only in its acting but also in the camerawork by Yaron Scharf.

Those who know how such crises feel may notice that, as a rule, in To Take a Wife the fourth baby is born quite recently and so lack of sex and/or aborted children is not an issue. One can easily notice that young film directors can’t be always congenial to the age of their characters, and this is why the leading actors, Ronit Elkabetz herself, and Simon Abkarian, are sometimes too monotonous. It’s easy to understand those who get irritated by lack of open air scenes (while others enjoy this Israelite kammerspiel as a visual equivalent of the situation when a woman can’t complain since their opinion is mostly in favour of her too-good-for-this-world husband).

But with all this, To Take a Wife is probably the most important in the program, since it reveals the roots of what was shown in almost every movie: women’s disappointment in family life and their solitude and emptiness as the price of independence. The action of To Take a Wife takes place in 1979 (i.e. the generation of Vivian and Eliahu is different from that of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz). As far as we can see, Vivian and Eliahu grew up in Morocco before moving to Israel (this is why sometimes they speak French, and kids now and then correct their Hebrew). This is the reason why they somehow care of traditional values which were still alive in a poor and patriarchal country: being divorced is still considered indecent both for a husband and a wife, and this is the last tie keeping Eliahu and Vivian together.

Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” starts with this notorious line: “All happy families look like each other; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” See the rest of the program! A family dies out in the Israeli Or (My Treasure) (Or [Mon trésor]), by Keren Yedaya, as well as in Italian Mobbing: I Like to Work (Mi piace lavorare), by Francesca Comencini; Yes , by Sally Potter; Pakistani Veeru/Khamosh pani: Silent Waters , by Sabiha Sumar. Any women’s film festival program shows this global crisis in the most sincere (although sometimes one-sided) way. Why not award a movie full of local colour and religious details alien to most of the audience yet very deep in its pessimism concerning the eternal problems of faith and family? A pessimist is a well-informed optimist.

By the way, the end of To Take a Wife, a Judaist film, is very Christian. Eliahu suddenly bursts into tears right during the Shabbat prayer while his whole family sobs at home around Vivian. You can also recall the end of Fellini’s La Strada : Eliahu’s tears – Zampano’s as well – may not yet be tears of repent. It’s probably just an outbreak of emotions. Nevertheless, from now on everybody in the synagogue knows that Eliahu is not a saint as he made everyone believe. The truth came to light.

Kind of a divine intervention? Or just the happiest end of a show which must not go on?