'Obsession' still. 390.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are certain trends that are becoming apparent in the booming Israeli film
industry, and one is that groups that have been overlooked by the movies in the
past are finding their voices.
While Mizrahi Jews were never exactly
ignored on film in the past, they were most often figures of fun.
community that, in the past, was often less well off financially than their
Ashkenazi counterparts, some have felt discriminated against or marginalized by
other Israelis and resented the fact that their traditions and their religiosity
Now, more than ever, they are making films that give
their side of the story a serious hearing.
In Britain, working class-born
filmmakers went through a similar process, which gave rise to what were called
Kitchen-Sink Films, meaning films that were set in cramped apartments and slums.
In such movies as The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Saturday Night and
Sunday Morning and Look Back in Anger, Brits vented their fury at the ruling
classes and laid bare the misery of their lives.
Now in Israel we have a
growing mini-genre of the Mizrahi kitchen-sink movie. While the older, broad
slapstick comedies in Israel were called Seretei Bourekas (Bourekas Movies),
after the greasy snack food bourekas, perhaps these new dramas deserve their own
name. I’d like to suggest Seretei Kubbeh, after the more basic, filling staple
of Mizrahi cuisine. There have been dozens of these films in the last few years,
notably the two films from siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz, To Take a Wife
The latest Seret Kubbeh, or Mizrahi Kitchen-Sink movie, to
come along is Nissim Notrika’s Obsession, or, as it is called in Hebrew, Resisei
Ahava (fragments of love).
As is true with most of the films in this
category, it is a showcase for strong acting. In this case, Reymond Amsalem, a
fine actress who shone last year in My Lovely Sister, has a very showy starring
role as Malka, a young Mizrahi wife and the mother of four children in the
Nahlaot section of Jerusalem in the late 1960s. She is hopelessly in love with
her husband, Sammy (Yehezkel Lazarov), a ne’er-do-well who gambles away the
little money they have and also has an affair with a single woman a few streets
Malka and Sammy’s two older children, one a soldier and the other a
bright young woman who has moved to a kibbutz, rarely come home and do all they
can to avoid the constant bickering of their parents. Another young son is
studying for his bar mitzva and hoping that his parents will come up with the
money to celebrate it, while the youngest, Micha, refuses to, or can’t, speak, a
fact that causes less trouble than you might imagine.
And there is a
Holocaust survivor neighbor who is in love with Malka and is waiting patiently
for her marriage to fall apart.
While the actors do excellent work, the
production design is lovely and the music is quite haunting, it’s a difficult
movie to sit through. There are few surprises as the religious and devoted Malka
finds her feelings trampled over and over by this handsome cad. If this is your
family’s story, you may relate to it as many people have told me they related to
To Take A Wife and, even more, Shiva.
We can all understand the tragedy
of Malka’s situation: The whole social structure is built around keeping married
couples together, but she just uses that as an excuse to stay with this
worthless man she is so in love with, when everyone around her sees that she
would be better off without him.
But those who don’t have a strong
personal connection to this material won’t get much out of this film. It comes
down to what I call The Bus Test: If you were sitting near these characters on a
bus, would you listen to their conversation with interest or would you move so
you didn’t have to hear it? Unfortunately, Obsession fails The Bus Test. It’s
simply agonizing to see a self-absorbed womanizer torment everyone around him,
and it’s terribly frustrating to watch such a striking, capable woman waste her
love on such a man.
Perhaps in the future there will be more Seretei
Kubbeh that will be able to strike a universal chord and transcend the grimness
and claustrophobia of their subject matter.
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