Fighting against the current

Omer Regev’s dramatic movie about a couple beset by the husband’s war-induced post-trauma, to be shown at a screening of Ma’aleh student films, represents a professional and personal milestone for the director.

Ma'aleh movie 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Ma'aleh)
Ma'aleh movie 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Ma'aleh)
Though still a younger sibling to its European and American counterparts, Israel’s film industry has grown significantly in recent years. Judging by the quality and breadth of subject matter that final-year students of Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts are addressing, there’s a lot to look forward to. This Tuesday, the Jerusalem Cinematheque will host the screening of a dozen Ma’aleh student films, specifically documentaries and dramas.
“The three documentaries address the subject of faith and are based on the personal stories of the directors, who also take an active role in the events portrayed,” explains the school’s principal, Neta Ariel. “The nine dramas present a wide range of stories and cinematic styles, ranging from powerful and intense dramas, through moving family dramas and film noir, to lyrical and even alternative movies.”
Founded 22 years ago, the Ma’aleh School – which is situated on Shivtei Israel Street, near the municipality – offers an added angle of interest in that almost all the students are religious and all the teachers are secular. This affects the dynamics of the filmmaking process as well as the final product.
As is to be expected, the young filmmakers portray some challenging issues and often adopt a stark approach. The documentary There Are Good Sins, by Ranana Herman, is a good example of a startlingly honest portrayal of highly unusual dynamics within an Orthodox household. The family in question is Herman’s, and the principal character is her father, who, it seems, has some serious question marks about his religiosity. While many offspring of Orthodox parents opt for a secular lifestyle, here Herman has to deal with her father straying from the path, and the confusion this arouses in her.
Meanwhile, A Different Kind of Summer poses other family issues as newlyweds Hannah and Ariel Chen face up to Hannah’s battle with cancer, and the implications this has for their chances of starting a family.
There is also plenty on the drama side of Tuesday’s screening program. Golan Reiss’s Hasimot (Obstacles), for example, portrays the day-to-day deliberations of an IDF checkpoint commander torn between the tribulations of the Palestinians, army orders and the presence of women from the Machsom Watch organization.
MORE MILITARY-RELATED material, albeit approached from a different angle, characterizes Omer Regev’s gripping drama The House on the Water. The movie tells the story of a couple beset by the husband’s war-induced post-trauma and the effect this has on their relationship and family life.
For some, the film’s name may evoke images of Noah and his ark, floating peacefully around the globe until the flood eventually abates. Regev’s intent is far darker.
“There is something unstable about a house on water,” explains the 32-year-old director, adding that “water seeps into every place, and there is something about the trauma in the house that spreads out and insinuates itself on everything.”
The husband in the story, Sa’ar, is a musician who has nightmares about an experience he had in the army. Meanwhile, his wife, Maya, tries to keep her personal life on an even keel and deal with her high-profile and highstress daytime job. The House on the Water gives the impression of coming from somewhere very personal, and indeed, Regev has some firsthand experience of the subject matter.
“I went through some tough things in the army that stayed with me,” he says. “I have some difficult memories, and I still have nightmares.”
Making the film clearly required far more than technical skills and the right sort of equipment. “The core of the film is that you are in a situation that appears to come from a dream, but in fact, you wake up into a reality which is not a flashback, it is a flash-now. You wake up and you feel you are still in the dream.”
In the film, there is a moment of unintentional violence, when Sa’ar reacts strongly to a passage in a dream and catches his wife on the head in the process. That also isn’t too far from an actual occurrence, Regev says: “I dreamt that I stretched out an arm to stop someone falling, but in fact, I stretched out my arm straight into a closed window shutter and ended up with an open fracture in a finger. I didn’t feel anything while I was asleep, and even for a while after I woke up, I thought I was still there, in the place in the dream.”
Naturally the movie did not take shape overnight.
Making it was something of an endurance test, and not just for technical reasons.
“This is the first time I have talked about this openly,” admits the director. “You could say that making the film was a sort of therapy process for me. Actually I hadn’t planned on talking about my experiences, even after the film comes out.”
In fact, the film almost didn’t happen at all. Regev had a lot of emotional and social barriers to overcome before he could get down to the script, let alone come to grips with his own trauma.
“I was wary of people knowing about what I went through. Maybe there’s a testosterone-related element to all this,” he ventures, “that I wanted to keep up a pretense, that I was fine and could handle my experiences and the effect it has had on me. I don’t know how many other people have emotional baggage they carry with them from their army experiences, but I suppose there is an element of shame – you know, the image of the proud and strong Sabra who doesn’t show emotion. Maybe that’s it.”
With the help of his teacher at Ma’aleh, he managed to write and rewrite the script and eventually get down to shooting, editing and producing the final cut for screening next week. The result is a nicely weighted drama, with a few surprises along the way.
On a personal level, Regev feels he has offloaded an emotional millstone. “There is a sense of release for me, and I think that comes across in the film, too.” •
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