"My Father My Lord": The Modern Story of Abraham and Isaac By Salome Kikaleishvili

in 8th Tbilisi International Film Festival

by Salome Kikaleishvili

David Volach was born to one of the most ultra-orthodox families in Jerusalem and was raised with his 18 other siblings. Several years ago he abandoned everything there and moved to Tel-Aviv. My Father My Lord (Hofshat Kaits) is the debut work by this 37 year-old director — granting him a prize for a debut work at the Haifa 2006 Film Festival and now becoming FIPRESCI diploma owner at the Tbilisi International Film Festival, 2007.

The film tells the story of an ultra-orthodox family — similar to the one in which the director himself was born and raised. The family that he knows by heart, the family that he can perceive inside out. The father called Abraham is a rabbi in his 50s dedicating all his time to reading the sacred books. That is why you always watch him either in the Synagogue or at home. Rabbi Abraham has a sole lifetime aim — to raise his own son as a great-believer in the Jewish religion.

The son is called Menachem. He is a 5-6 year-old boy obeying his father’s will without hesitation. He diligently tries to somehow get used to the endless hours of praying, yet often getting tired and falling asleep while reading. Outside the home he becomes an ordinary child though — a curious little boy who prefers to look at the bird-nests from the classroom window instead of memorizing the religious hymns; he prefers to exchange his pictures with cute illustrations with his classmates. And above all, from time after time he keeps on asking with his childish tone — “When do we go to sea?”, “Will we definitely go to the Dead Sea?”, “Will we?”

Abraham’s wife is a ghost-lady actually, while her sole responsibilities are to cook for her men and to wash their clothes. In Abraham’s family everything is structured and arranged according to the sacred books and God-written rules. Abraham has no idea about a real life. For him life is whatever is written in the sacred books. That is why whenever Manehem asks a simple childish question his father checks the answer in a book first and only afterwards gives him an answer. Manehem is not allowed to bring home that little piece of paper with a picture of a strange thing on it, since it resembles an icon of some pagan people. Abraham doesn’t even talk to his wife when it is time for sleeping and not talking and when he needs something, he writes it down on the paper. Even though the film visually is very calm — and the director achieves this effect by large sequences, soft colors and the camera moving lightly — the scenes still seem dead, remote and desert — like the nature of the Dead Sea itself.

This film is full of religious and biblical myths. This is a modern story of Abraham and Isaac. According to the myth, God — wishing to check Abraham’s love towards Him — asks him to sacrifice his own son to Him. However, if in the myth God appears at the last second to Abraham and asks him to sacrifice a goat instead of his son — in Volach’s film God is nowhere!

God Tells You — Curiosity Ruins a Man

They are at the Dead Sea coast. Obeying the rules, the ladies and men swim at separate beaches. Abraham and Manehem are there too. When the praying time comes, Abraham will gather all the men at the neighboring hill for a prayer. In this process he won’t notice how Menachem will slip out somewhere with a bag of fish in his hand. The bag is torn, water comes out and the fish disappeared too — Manehem thinks to himself and because his father — busy with prayers — doesn’t notice anything he goes back to the sea coast.

The men all indulged in prayers don’t notice anything suspicious until a boy finds a shoe at the beach. It’s already dark. They are at the Dead Sea. Women are standing separately — with Menachem’s mother among them, and men are standing there too, all singing the church hymns along with Abraham. Simultaneously, the helicopter is flying over the darkened sea bringing a little dead body wrapped in a special black bag.

Thus Menachem died because of his curiosity — God teaches us that curiosity ruins a man!

At the territory of the school where little Menachem used to study, special religious rules were enforced according to which ladies couldn’t trespass the territory.

Before going to the sea one of the rabbies calls on Abraham. It turns out that in one of the corners of the school the bird gave birth to a baby-bird. This is the same bird Menachem used to peer at from the class-room window. And the bird is a she; she is a female and hence is not allowed to be at the territory. So Abraham says a prayer and then forces the mother-bird to fly away, leaving a little bird alone. Menachem asks his father unstoppably: “What will that little bird do alone? Is he going to die? Who is going to look after him? Who is going to?”

“Don’t you worry, he’ll be fine. God will shelter him and he’ll be fine” — that’s the answer Abraham gives to his son. However several hours after Abraham finds the different answer at Menachem’s question. And that’s a real answer, the answer that can’t be found in any sacred book.

“Be it a western film, it would have had an emotional, psychological final scene, concluding the story full of controversies of a father and his son” — Klaus Eder wrote in his article (arrow.). And to continue this point, the film has a different ending in Volach’s case. In the corner of the synagogue, Abraham sits at the long table (unable to lead a church ceremony for this first time), while his wife throws all his sacred books at him. We only hear the noise of falling books and we can’t take our eyes off Abraham shockingly still as the Dead Sea itself. Is this your love? Is this your belief? Where is your God, tell me!