Israel Film Festival Review: Chametz & Lenin In October

6 Jun

By Eszter Margit

The made for television short Chametz, directed by Alon Levi, won the Best Television Drama Film award at the Haifa International Film Festival in 2010. Chametz follows 15-year-old Ayala (Noa Kashi) as she returns from boarding school to help her mother (Reymond Amsalem) prepare for Passover. There she discovers the real reason her mother has kept her away despite her protestations, a very handsome, sweet man named Eitan (Alon Leshem) who mom has secretly been dating. Eitan tells Ayala about his plan to ask her mother to marry him at the Seder, and they slip away to secretly buy a ring. As Ayala tries on the rings in her mother’s stead, a bond forms with Eitan. She gets a glimpse into womanhood that is dissolved when the vendor asks her ‘father’ to buy ‘his daughter’ a nice bracelet for the holiday. The turbulence of the teenage girls’ blossoming feelings is portrayed with elegance as she falls for the handsome man. Ayala is torn between competing with her mother for a lover and still wanting to be mommy’s little girl.

While the camerawork is first-rate, the film manages to grab your attention with its use of sound. The film gives a strong perspective with by using a female voice that is reminiscent of a teenage girl’s whisper of desire. Like a soft voice, we see only repressed emotions, tamed into day-dreams for Ayala. It addresses a taboo but fascinating topic: how a girl’s sexuality stirs up in a community where modesty is such an important issue. When a shirt’s top button cannot be loosened when someone is hot, lipsticks are not allowed even for play with a little sister at home and men and women live in an almost completely separate dimension before marriage, attention from any kind man can be most confusing to a blossoming young lady. Chametz deftly explores whether the orthodox community is repressive or if it is merely one woman’s jealousy.

Lenin in October, another award winning television drama which screened following Chametz depicts another lesser-seen side of Israel: post-Soviet Jews. Evgeny Ruman’s brilliant film starring Vladimir Friedman, Itzchak Peker, Avi Graynik and Alexander Senderovich as “Grisha” is an almost totally male dominated movie, portraying a family of three generations of Russian men living in one home. The title Lenin in October is a reference to a glorified biographical film the soviets produced in 1937 of the same name which depicted Vladimir Lenin as a sympathetic hero. Now, in the twilight of communism, the October of the title takes a new form. Making light of ideological debates that used to be the most important dividing factor within families (and the broader society of course) during Socialism, Lenin puts it all in contrast with 21st century values: family peace, respect, support and actualizing one’s dreams.

When Grisha’s rich uncle dies in Ukraine, he leaves all his money to his beloved nephew to open a restaurant, but there is a catch: a sworn Communist all his life, the uncle decrees that the restaurant must be dedicated to the sacred values of Communism. Grisha’s father had been persecuted by the Communists his whole life and doesn’t want to set foot in the place. Meanwhile, a funny and freaky homeless Communist artist comes off the beach to create a stone bust statue of Lenin (a condition Grisha has to meet on order to receive his inheritance) and tries to convince the staff of the restaurant to rebel against the ‘bourgeois owner’. After the stone statue is broken during the melee, Grisha’s Dad and young son create a colorful, plaster bust of Lenin at home, laughing ideology away. The movie shows a funny side of how ideology can be ridiculous when brought to extremes and has to face reality.
Patrícia Eszter Margit is an author, cultural critic, journalist, sociologist and community organizer originally from Hungary. Her writings have appeared in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jerusalem Report, Nepszabadsag (the largest Hungarian daily), Szombat (Hungarian Jewish cultural magazine), and Marie Claire magazine. She is the author of The Jewish Bride, a bestseller published in Hungary in 2009. Eszter now lives in New York where she became a Jewish bride herself.

Comment Form