Saturday, October 25, 2008


This evening we went to see Shiva'a, a new Israeli film that has been getting prizes at all sorts of festivals.

I warmly recommend, though perhaps not if you're too young to understand the dynamics of families, and also not if you're into action films.

The film tells the story of a large family of Moroccan Israels sitting shiva for the death of Morris, a 40-something man who has died suddenly, leaving a wife and two children, but also seven brothers, two sisters and an aged mother. The film follows the rancorous yet ultimately loving relationships among the siblings and some of their spouses. It's January 1991, and in the background Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles are occasionally landing nearby, but this adds more comic effect than anything else; the seriousness and intensity of the family turmoil are far greater than the outside world.

Like any good story, its universal appeal is rooted in it's specifics. The family is Moroccan-Israeli, and is instantly recognizable as such by anyone who know anything about Israel - but it's probably adaptable to any family the world over where family members are capable of expressing the full range of emotions, including many destructive ones, while preserving the basic family bonds.

Now that I think of it, maybe that's not so universal. It's certainly not unique to Israelis, but I can think of some societies where not only would tensions like those in the Ohayon family irrevocably tear families apart, they'd never even be allowed to develop in the first place, for precisely that reason. I can think of a society where most people wouldn't even be able to fathom the dynamics, even if it's "only a movie".

Besides the main story, I loved the way the family used three languages (Hebrew, Moroccan-Arabic and French) in a totally interwoven way, sometimes moving from one to the next on to the third and back, all in one paragraph. (At one point two figures wandered off into a discussion in German). Also interesting, and convincing, was they way siblings of different ages, who grew up in different stages of the immigrant story of this family, look and behave differently, to the extent that the youngest brother isn't even obviously a sibling, so far removed is he from the experiences of his oldest brothers.

Ronit Elkabetz is a great actress. And, in a totally different way, so is Sulika Kadosh, the ancient matriarch who acts almost wholly without words.

Go see the film if you can. If you live here, it will make you feel good in a fundamental way. If you don't, it'll give you a perspective on Israel you're unlikely to get elsewhere - though I doubt you'll find the film in your nearby cinema.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I just bought a DVD from Amazon: GO FOR ZUCKER. Similar story. German film.

It felt so familiar I "almost" wasn't aware I need the sub-titles.

When the film starts you meet Zucker. He claims he's not Jewish. He is an out-of-luck pool player.

His mother dies.

And, it's in the will that two brothers who haven't talked to each other in more than 20 years; must get together (while sitting shiva) so they can both inherit her fortune.

The film is very well done!

Suddenly, Zucker (because his wife is the one putting this together), become orthodox. Reading instructions. So the Mazuzah hangs correctly on the door.

And, "mit-en-drinnen" there's a big pool event.

And, the trials and tribulations ...

Especially those.

The Germans find it hard to laugh about "Jewish things." Which is why this movie is so unusual.

Laughter is a good thing.

Wrapping the story, then, around sitting shiva tells you more about life than death. Sometimes, the human drama can be pretty funny.