The Family Issue

in 33rd Jerusalem Film Festival

by Pierre-Simon Gutman

One of the Israeli films presented in the 33rd edition of the Jerusalem Film Festival, We Had a Forest, deals with a very painful and actual subject: the death, by heat, of children left in the car by a parent. This is a highly sensitive topic, apparently very much in the mind of the audience: multiple deaths of this kind have happened in Israel, the U.S. and Spain. We had a Forest by writer director Guy Raz serves as a reminder that this can actually happen to everyone, even a good and devoted father like the protagonist of the picture, who is stressed out by work. Yet, despite the obvious pedagogic objective of the film, what is left is something else – a proof of a strangely omnipresent theme at this year Jerusalem Film Festival. The little game of finding a coherent narrative for a whole selection may seem a bit sterile, but this year, especially in the first features section, the family, in all its forms and meanings, was everywhere. We had a Forest was never stronger than when it was simply filming this family, in its happy moments and later in its attempts to rebuild itself.

That theme was apparent in almost every image: a couple willing to do anything to look like a family in Mehmet Can Mertoglu’s Album; another torn apart by separation in the Czech Family Film (Rodinni Film) by Olmo Omerzu. Other families were ruptured by imprisonment, as in Magnus von Horn’s The Here After (Efterskalv), by grief, as in One Week and a Day, winner of the best film award in the Israeli competition, or simply by time and distance, as in Dorit Hakim’s Moon in the 12th House. The pattern was almost repetitive – something breaks the center of a family, and the rebuilding forms the main narrative, with all the questions flowing from it. What is a family, what makes it a unit or what splits it apart? What is the nature of a family, its essence, can it be repaired, can it be artificially created, is it for real or just a construction of the mind? Is it about blood or does it go beyond that, with groups linked by a common passion that in turn create another, nuclear, but maybe very real new kind of family? Family Film took this notion quite literally, by showing an actual family that keeps reinventing and redefining itself, exhausting every possibility. Instead of telling one story, this film is composed of micro narratives.

The obvious element that, for narrative and emotional reasons, cannot be escaped, is loss. We Had a Forest disappoints a little, probably because it doesn’t focus on something that occupied pretty much all the other films in the selection: what happens after the grief and the death? How do you become a unified group again? It is an old theme, for sure, that has haunted classics by such directors as Nanni Moretti and Nicholas Roeg. But this year in Jerusalem a kind of new twist was added to the familiar pattern. The movies weren’t obsessed as much by death but by the restructuring of the family. Strangely enough, a unique question rose from almost all the films presented: what make the family a reality, a lie, or a true bond stronger than life? The answers were sometimes sarcastic, sometimes moving, and they forced us to face our lives, our situation, and to confront our own visions of the issue.

Edited by Yael Shuv