‘Twilight of a Life’ is an ode to life

Belgian-Israeli director Sylvain Biegeleisen’s latest film follows the final weeks of his 95-year-old mother’s life and the intense bond that developed between them.

December 20, 2015 22:36
3 minute read.
Twilight of a Life

‘THERE WAS the humor, there was tenderness that my mother couldn’t give me when I was a child. I didn’t have it when I was five years old, but I had it when I was 65 years old,’ says director Sylvain Biegeleisen, seen here with his dying mother in ‘Twilight of a Life.’. (photo credit: Courtesy)

"It was a two-year journey that was an opportunity to discover new ways of communication,” said Sylvain Biegeleisen about his movie Twilight of a Life, a record of his 95-year-old mother’s last days and the intense and affectionate relationship that deepened between them. The movie, which is in theaters throughout Israel, is being shown at Docaviv Negev, which runs from December 22-24 throughout the Negev, at Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, Mitzpe Ramon and Ramat Hovav. Biegeleisen will give a master class there, and there will workshops, musical performances and documentaries, with a number of programs featuring documentaries made by filmmakers from the Negev.

Twilight of a Life began when Biegeleisen’s mother was told by doctors she had just a few weeks to live. At first, Biegeleisen took some photos of her, but then noticed that something unexpected was happening. Although his mother remembered little and sometimes did not even recognize her son, this helped Biegeleisen and his mother to discover each other, totally released from the baggage that had accompanied them throughout their lives. She lived two years after she was given a few weeks to live.

“We have tendency to communicate with our background and roots, but suddenly you don’t have them anymore. With a 95-year-old lady who doesn’t always remember her son or who she is, it was an opportunity to discover new tools to communicate.”

At first, Biegeleisen had planned to take only still photos of his mother at the end of her life, but he felt “our conversations were so rich, so important” that it made sense to film them.

The extraordinary film, which won the award for Best Israeli Feature at this year’s Docaviv Festival in Tel Aviv, followed Biegeleisen’s previous film, The Last Card, which was also about his mother. That film told of how her past as a Holocaust survivor had shadowed her life and influenced their relationship.

Making the 2007 film helped “restore our relationship.” Because she was reluctant to talk about what she had endured during the war, “There were lots of silences when I was growing up, and lots of misunderstanding ... But we were able to reconcile.

By the time I made the second film, there was nothing to resolve ... just to enjoy being together in present moment of questions and answers, tenderness, silences full of emotion, music, cooking and burning the food. There was the humor, there was tenderness that my mother couldn’t give me when I was a child. I didn’t have it when I was five years old, but I had it when I was 65 years old.”

In the beautifully photographed blackand- white Twilight of a Life (a color version will be released for television), Biegeleisen and his mother speak quietly, and he sometimes plays guitar for her and they sing together. She occasionally admonishes him in a maternal way, such as when she warns him that he won’t make any money on a film about her, but more often they discuss how they are feeling at that moment. Sometimes he lights a cigarette for her – why shouldn’t she smoke at her age? “In the beginning [of our lives] what we are sharing is such a big field but because the circle becomes small, what we are sharing doesn’t have to be small ... If we could only share even 10 percent [of what we shared before]... it becomes important and rich.”

Biegeleisen, who was raised in Belgium but moved to Israel when he was a young man, founded The Lahav NGO, an organization that helps young people from all over make films about their lives.

The response to the movie has been very gratifying for Biegeleisen, who said audiences all over the world have enjoyed it.

“People want to stay afterwards and talk.

I bring my guitar and we sing... It’s so positive and emotional.”

To find out more about Docaviv Negev, go to the festival website at www.docaviv.co.il/orgen/ 2014/12/25/docaviv-negev.

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