'Forgiveness' would best be forgotten

The challenge, writes Hannah Brown, is to describe the film in a way that does justice to the audacity of its ambitions and the poverty of its accomplishments.

unforgiven 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
unforgiven 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
FORGIVENESS - * Directed by Udi Aloni. Written by Aloni and Paul Hond. Hebrew title: Mechilot. 97 minutes. In English, Hebrew and Arabic, with English and Hebrew titles. With Itay Tiran, Clara Khoury, Moni Moshonov, Makram J. Khoury, Roba Blal, Michael Sarne, Tamara Mansour, Mike Bakaty, Omer Barnea There isn't an award for the most pretentious and annoying movie ever made, but if there were, I'd put my money on Forgiveness. Writer/director Udi Aloni really does deserve some kind of prize for the energy with which he has melded tired clich s, smug pseudo-intellectualism and humorless far left-wing politics into a single movie. It's difficult to actually describe the film - which mixes references to the Holocaust, Israeli atrocities against Arabs and, of all things, one of the most discredited philosophies of the 20th century, Franz Rosenzweig's theory of a mystical German-Jewish synthesis - in a way that will do justice to the audacity of its aspirations and the poverty of its accomplishments. Let's just say that Forgiveness displays such a whiny, bleeding-heart sensibility that I spent part of the running time wondering if the film were a recruiting tool for the Right, aimed at parodying the worst stereotypes of leftists. If it is in fact intended to turn people away from the Israeli Left, then it is, in that sense, a smashing success. One of the most annoying aspects of the movie is that the vast majority of the dialogue is in English, since the young hero, David (Itay Tiran), was raised in the US. There's nothing wrong with an Israeli filming a movie in English, but in this case, the unnecessary plot twist of having an American protagonist is clearly aimed at making the movie more commercial, since subtitled movies often have a difficult time finding an audience abroad. When the film opens, David is a patient in a Jerusalem mental hospital, one that we are told in an opening title was built on the remains of Deir Yassin, an Arab village where Palestinians were massacred by Jews in 1948. According to the introduction, the hospital's patients often think they see the ghosts of the Arab residents. The hospital's English-speaking inmates troop on, led by the blind Musselman (Moni Moshonov, who does the best he can under the circumstances), an Auschwitz survivor who speaks with great clarity about his memories of the camp, although the 50-ish actor was not even born until years after World War II. He leads the other inmates on an archaeological dig, excavating the hospital's garden, which - 10 points if you saw this coming - unearths the skull of a murdered Arab. Dr. Isaac Shemesh (Makram J. Khoury) comes to chat with Musselman as the concentration camp survivor holds the skull aloft, mimicking Hamlet's "Alas, poor Yorick" speech, and then tells the doctor, "This is my house. I am blind. I am a mole." Musselman - the name, the helpful screenwriters tell us, is a term for concentration camp inmates who gave up all hope - continues in this vein, establishing beyond a doubt that Jews have wrongly justified oppression of Arabs because of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But Dr. Shemesh is understandably more concerned with David, a new patient. David is the son of a Holocaust survivor who came to Israel after the war, then moved to the US and became a world-famous concert pianist. David was raised in a lovely Greenwich Village townhouse in New York but came to Israel to serve in the Israel army because of his Zionist convictions. He has deep feelings about his Jewish identity, which he proves by having a Star of David tattooed on his chest in New York and chattily telling the artist the tattoo is inspired by Franz Rosenzweig's Star of Redemption (I'm not making this up). But he has become catatonic after murdering an Arab girl by accident while serving with the IDF in the West Bank. David is haunted by the ghost of the girl, but won't talk about what happened. Dr. Shemesh contemplates using a new drug that will erase David's memory of the trauma, and after some debate administers the drug and David recovers sufficiently to return to New York. There, he begins an affair with a young Palestinian woman, Lila (Clara Khoury), who happens to have a daughter who looks exactly like the girl he murdered. He decides to confront his demons and stop taking the drug, but before you can say "irony," he enters a murderous rage and threatens the life of his lover's daughter. To say more would not ruin the suspense, since there is none, but this mish-mash of tired cliches needs no further explanation. Director Aloni will undoubtedly dismiss any criticism of the film as right-wing anti-intellectualism. I can't argue, because watching the movie killed too many of my brain cells. If you'd like to find out more about Aloni and his philosophy, check out the film's Web site at www.forgivenessthefilm.com and read more of his deep thoughts in essays such as "Reflections on the Coming of the Messiah." Sample quote: "In theological-political terms, I would say that the Messiah is the gap between the physical and the metaphysical." In spite of fine performances from Moshonov, Itay Tiran, Makram J. Khoury and Clara Khoury (father and daughter in real life but unrelated characters here), in critical-common sense terms, I would say that Forgiveness is the gap between art and idiocy.