Golden Opportunity

The sweeping saga of a Yemenite family makes its debut at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

The Pomegranate Pendant 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Pomegranate Pendant 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The day I killed Ezra, I could not stop crying,” confesses Dvora Waysman.
No, not a murderer but in fact a prolific creator, the Jerusalem-based author is referring to one of the main characters in her novel The Pomegranate Pendant. Written in 1995, the book tells the compelling story of Mazal, a Yemenite Jew who comes to Israel as a young bride in the late 1800s and makes a life for herself in Jerusalem.
An epic tale that spans several generations, the book places Mazal at the center of the story, while the turbulent history of the State of Israel unfolds in the background. Waysman says she had to kill off Mazal’s husband early in the plot so that the narrative could revolve around the formidable struggles of an Orthodox single mother in historic times.
Originally published by Feldheim, which was later taken over by Mazo Publishers, the book has been translated into Hebrew and French.
What the 79-year-old Australian-born author of 11 books never anticipated when she wrote and researched The Pomegranate Pendant was that it would be made into a movie. But Robert Bleiweiss, a film producer and former publisher of The Jewish Spectator, a Los Angeles-based magazine that ran many of Waysman’s articles, thought it was “a hell of a story” and wanted to see it on film.
“The history of Israel has been told many times, but never through the eyes of a single mother from Yemen living in the Old City,” he says.
Taking the project in hand, Bleiweiss wrote the script and produced The Golden Pomegranate, which premiered last week at the Jerusalem Film Festival to a packed theater that had people sitting in the aisles.
And enraptured by the film.
Although he tried to remain as faithful to the book as possible, Bleiweiss had to add several elements to give the story more dramatic tension. “There are no villains in the book,” he says. “In a film, you need a villain.” Throughout the process, he kept Waysman apprised of all script changes.
Shot exclusively in Israel, the movie was directed by Israeli actor and director Dan Turgeman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bleiweiss. The entire cast was Yemenite or North African, says Bleiweiss, explaining that it was done in English because doing it in Hebrew would have greatly reduced its audience potential. And, he elaborates, “People don’t like to read subtitles – and nobody dubs films anymore.”
He chuckles when he thinks of the many times he had to take an actor or an extra aside to do a little speech coaching. But the authenticity of the local accents adds to the film’s charm, not to mention the 600 stunning costumes fashioned under the deft supervision of costume designer Rona Doron.
And “stunning” is certainly the word to describe the scenery. Shot in such locations as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Caesarea, Beit Jamal (near Beit Shemesh) and Rosh Ha’ayin, some of the scenes are so breathtaking, that you sit in your seat thinking to yourself, “Where is that?” The work of the director of photography, Ofer Inov, is like Impressionist paintings, says Bleiweiss “I’d like to have some of those stills hanging on my wall as art,” he confides.
As for the dramatic artists, three actresses – Hadar Ozeri, Galit Giat and Timna Brauer – play the role of Mazal, each portraying the heroine at an advancing stage of her life, while Ofir Nahari plays the part of the ill-fated Ezra. Mazal’s father is played by Mati Seri. Singer Ahinoam Nini has a small but pivotal role in the film, and those with an eagle eye can spot Waysman in a fleeting cameo appearance.
“For me, this film is a dream come true,” says Waysman, who has been living in Israel for 39 years. “I never thought it would really happen,” she marvels.
At the end of the screening, Turgeman made a short speech and then called to the stage the cast and crew who were in attendance.
When Waysman took to the stage, the audience gave a rousing cheer for the diminutive greatgrandmother who had stirred their hearts and fired their imaginations.
For Israeli audiences, the film strikes many resonant chords.
Whether it will have universal appeal remains to be seen. Bleiweiss is taking the film to a number of film festivals around the world in the hopes that it will be purchased and released in wide distribution. Until that time, we can only watch and wait.
Now, there’s some real-life suspense for you.