The Gentle Voice of Israeli Cinema

in 42nd Molodist International Film Festival

by Iryna Gordiichuk

The name of Hadar Friedlich, a graduate from Maale School of Television , Film and Arts (Israel) , is well known to cinephiles. Even  her debut  “Anashim” ( her diploma film in fact) was awarded Grand Prix at the Melbourne Film Festival, and won the FIPRESCI Prize  at the Odense International Film Festival. This being her encouraging start, her next work Shiur Noledet:  Avdei  Hashem released 10 years ago,  was no disappointment either to critics or colleagues, whereas  it was awarded the Best Script Prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival, shown at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes, and selected for festivals such as Melbourne and Sao Paulo.

And her first full length feature “Beautiful Valley”  (“Emek tiferet”) was on the competition list at  the 42th Molodist International Film Festival held in Kiev this October (20 through 28).

The story itself is quite modest and unpretentious. Anna Mendelsson , an 80 year old widow lives in a Kibutz – an agricultural commune she  helped found  in her long past young days. She still strongly believes in the  ideals of social equality and cooperation for the benefit of community, which were once build into the foundations of her Kibutz; moreover such values are still sacred to her.  Her everyday habitual and well-run ascetic routine, her whole world, suddenly crashes down as privatization comes and forces her into retirement. The elderly woman can’t reconcile herself with her new status, trying to work at night.  Neither her own daughter, nor the Kibutz inhabitants show understanding toward her. The mother-daughter relationship is particularly strained since the daughter’s childhood was shadowed by living at the boarding school, where she felt lonely and forsaken because her mother was over-committed to  the cause of building  a “rosy future” at  her cherished Kibutz.  

The story told by the director poses simple and eternal, though challenging questions, which we face  every day. Their solutions have to be sought and found by all of us without any exception, regardless of sex, age, nationality or class: rich and poor, intelligent or not, endowed with beauty and talent of just ordinary folks. These are issues of life and death, friendship and betrayal, illusions pertaining to years of youth and shattered in adult years, generation gap problems.

It goes without saying that similar themes are not a rarity in the world of motion picture. And in their creative endeavors to get to the truth, film authors often slip into affective pathos and sheer banality. Hadar Friedlich was able to tell Anna Mendelsson’s story so that it causes dragging pain without resorting to pomp and glare of rhetoric, to denunciations and accusations, to laments and complaints. The director speaks in a gentle and low key, sometimes languid voice. But her narration seems to be surprisingly beautiful and competent, abundant in unhackneyed  epithets  and metaphors and subordinate clauses. Hadar Friedlich is not at all after viewers’ tears, but instead she introduces us to the film environment in a subtle and unobtrusive way making us empathize with the heroine, so unsmiling and so short spoken. And even outside the theatre after the show and amid your everyday chores and worries you catch yourself thinking of Anna Mendelsson from Israel who at the point of her bottomless gloom still grasps at a straw linking her up to the idyllic times, where all and everyone were young and believed in everlasting happiness. You would be returning to the film tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and then again. And that alone would mean that you were lucky enough to come across a genuine work of art.

Betia Bar (Anna Mendelsson) who came to Kiev to present the film is not a professional actress. That was her first appearance on screen.  In fact, she has played herself because she knows firsthand what life in the Kibutz is, since she simply lives there.   At the press conference she told the journalists that she had found it  difficult to keep from smiling on camera because she is highly optimistic by nature.  One could hardly believe her because what she does in the film is so convincing, so professionally competent and complete that it seems to be only within the power of an experienced actress. It is worth mentioning that Batia Bar was nominated for the Best Actress award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, but never won it, though.  Yet her natural ability could not escape professional attention of directors: she could not attend the closing ceremony  of the 42nd Molodist International  Film Festival  to accept  the FIPRESCI award  because of a new role in a new motion picture.

Edited by Christina Stojanova