Mehilot: How to forgive?

At any given time Jerusalem, a polarized and politicized city, provides widely diverse cultural events

September 21, 2006 18:52
3 minute read.
Mehilot: How to forgive?

soldier crying 88. (photo credit: )


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In black on white, the opening titles read, "On April 9, 1948, a Jewish militia entered the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and killed over 100 villagers. Soon after, a mental hospital was built on the ruins. The first patients to be committed were Holocaust survivors. A legend says that to this day, the survivors have been communicating with the ghosts of the village. The stark titles set the tone for this difficult, frequently pretentious, overtly moralistic, yet often troubling film, Forgiveness, directed by Udi Aloni, based on his book and screenplay. Forgiveness (Mehilot) tells the story of David Adler, a 20-year-old idealistic American Jew, who once lived in Israel. David returns to Israel to join the Israeli army and finds himself shooting a young Palestinian girl. Suffering from post-traumatic shock, he is committed to a mental institution that sits on top of the ruins of a Palestinian village. The ghost of a 10-year-old child murdered in the village tries to communicate with David, through a Holocaust survivor who is a patient in the mental hospital. Despite his ethical reservations, Dr. Itzhik Shemesh, a psychiatrist, injects David with a chemo-technological drug in an attempt to bridge over the drama zone and allow David to live a normal life. But is forgetfulness normal? David is pulled into remembrance by the blind patient Musselman, a Holocaust survivor, who, like the Musselmen of the concentration camps, lives between life and death and never tried to reconstruct his life after the camps. David's father, also a Holocaust survivor, who has built a career as a famous musician in America, tries to rescue his son by bringing him back to New York. But in America David falls in love with Lila, a Palestinian-American single mother; Amal, her daughter, looks like the child David killed. The film is replete with surrealistic flashbacks and flashforwards that reveal the many twists of the lives of Palestinians, Israelis and Jews. But although the film is filled with chance and fateful meetings, Aloni is not interested, he says, "in telling the story of both sides, nor in telling a story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Mehilot, he declares, "is a film about Jewish memory and guilt, and the need to expiate that guilt by acknowledging the evils of the occupation and the murderers that we have become." Yet Aloni insists that he has also made a film that shows his deep love and compassion for the Jewish people, to whom he is deeply and irrevocably bound, and the need for collective and individual memory and redemption. "Only by returning to the trauma zone can we begin to heal," Aloni tells In Jerusalem. "I don't know what kind of healing we will create, I'm not sure how it works, but I know that it must." But to present these convoluted and contradictory theological-political-mythological-ideological arguments, Aloni has created an exceptionally demanding, often tedious film. Overburdened with metaphors and allusions - from Oedipus to Primo Levi, via Franz Rosenzweig, black holes and Jacques Dirreda, through Freud and Shalom Aleichem and Shlomo Anski's The Dybbuk, with asides to Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood, just watching Mehilot feels claustrophobic. Even the name, Mehilot, is complex and oblique. In Hebrew, mehilot can mean both forgiveness in the plural, as well as to underground tunnels. Here, Aloni refers to the kabbalistic belief that when righteous Jews die in the Diaspora, they must go through underground tunnels (mehilot) in order to resurrect when the Messiah comes. And so, he says, to be righteous and redeem themselves, Jews must crawl through mehilot of forgiveness, that they themselves must dig. "Jews must meet the Palestinians with humbleness and forgiveness, not as conquerors," Aloni declares. "That is how change will come." At times, the actors, including Makram Khoury, Clara Khoury, Itay Tiran, and well-known Moni Moshonov, do manage to rise above the weight of the movie to offer convincing, even inspired, performances. Their physical movements are often dance-like, which is not surprising since many of the scenes were choreographed by Ohad Naharin, the gifted choreographer of the Bat Sheva Dance Ensemble. The movie is largely well edited and the sets often seem like expressive canvasses. Yet Aloni seems to care less about the quality of his cinematography and more about his message. But his message is morally, politically and psychologically flawed. Like their counterparts in the extreme political Right, thinkers like Aloni from the extreme political Left ultimately believe that they can avoid interaction with the Palestinians and end the conflict themselves. Neither the far Right, which believes that Israel can ignore Palestinians, nor the far Left, which believes that Jewish guilt is the root of the conflict, views the Palestinians as a people of agency, who affect and are affected by the other. Yet recognition of the other as a full, faulted human being is the true precondition for forgiveness.

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