The way we were

The collection of Israelis’ personal footage in ‘Israel: A Home Movie,’ is both compelling and entertaining.

"Israel: A Home Movie" (photo credit: Courtesy)
"Israel: A Home Movie"
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel: A Home Movie
Directed and produced by Eliav Lilti and Arik Bernstein.
Hebrew title: Cach Ra’inu
Running time: 90 minutes Playing throughout the month at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
In Hebrew, with English titles
Most movies don’t have enough to say, and you forget them after you leave the theater. But the outstanding compilation film Israel: A Home Movie is the reverse. It’s a collection of home movies by Israelis that detail personal and historical events, and it’s so packed with real drama and ideas that it will stay with you for a long, long time.
Filmmakers Eliav Lilti and Arik Bernstein have collected home movies made in Israel from before the establishment of the state until the late 1970s. It’s a compulsively watchable film – it seems shorter than its 90-minute running time – and it brings up many controversial issues. By raising these issues from different perspectives from what we are used to seeing, it gets to the heart of why the State of Israel has faced so many problems and challenges: Living here has never been simple.
It also brings to mind the inescapable fact that Israelis have lived through some amazing events. It’s no wonder the feature film industry here has taken off: What could be more dramatic than the wars, the integration of Holocaust survivors and North African immigrants, the conflicts among different groups of Israelis on what kind of state it would be, and the attempts to live normal lives in the shadow of all these events? The film clips, which are accompanied by narration by those who shot them and those who appear in them, are brilliantly arranged. The section about a young boy from Iraq who was puzzled by the behavior of his Holocaust-survivor neighbors, made it his mission to find out the truth about them, and then ended up explaining that truth to the survivors’ children is especially impressive as a piece of filmmaking. It gives a fresh take on a subject that I thought could not be shown in a new light.
The sections on the elation after the Six Day War and the confusion on what the future relationship between Israelis and the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza would be also illuminate how Israelis who lived through those events saw them. Hindsight is 20/20, and now it seems easy to see what went wrong and why, but this film explains, better than many more heavy-handed documentaries, what it was like then.
The personal stories are often as compelling as the national and political ones. If you find family photos fascinating, then you will be drawn into the weddings, parties and family outings captured throughout the years here. And, as is so often the case, the personal and political stories are inextricably mixed. I certainly never knew that half a dozen Israeli couples got married in the Cave of the Patriarchs in July 1967 in a mass wedding supervised by the army. It went off without a hitch, and local Arabs set up folding chairs and watched as well.
Inevitably, people who are famous or from well-known families share their film clips.
Notable among these are Udi Dayan – Moshe Dayan’s son and Assi Dayan’s lookalike brother. As he watches his films, he seems taken aback at how incredibly handsome he was in the 1960s.
He also remembers the trouble he got into during his army service, as he felt he both more pressured and more entitled than most.
Talk show host Meni Pe’er shares footage of a casual wedding among the showbiz set in Tel Aviv in the early 1970s that captures the high life here, with an emphasis on certain kinds of highs.
But while the celebrities have interesting recollections, what you will remember most are the many others whose life stories played out alongside a compelling historical drama but which will remind you of your own family photos and your own life.
This film would be wonderful to show in high school and college courses, as well as in Hebrewlanguage classes, to give a very concentrated dose of history in the most entertaining format possible.