“Mabul” Film Floods with Allegory

23 Mar

by Elke Reva Sudin

Mabul (“The Flood”) is a coming of age film about a young boy named Yoni, on the precipice of his bar mitzvah while his family is falling apart around him. His Bar Mitzvah Torah portion, that of “Noah”, sets the stage for events that draw parallels between the biblical text and the boy’s modern home life.

Yoni constantly feels vulnerable due to his lack of physical maturity, constant bullying from bigger boys, and the lack of support and care from his family. So he sets up a for-hire business to do other kids homework to make enough money to buy protein drink mixes and bulk up in secret. This begins to take precedence over his Bar Mitzvah training, where he grows ever more distracted and distant.

His parents are wrapped up in their own problems, living lives of secrecy from one another in an attempt to keep their sanity under their own frustrated conditions. Yoni’s deadbeat dad is a pilot with a revoked flying license. He is out of work and looses himself in smoking marijuana, and fantasizing in his aviation dreams, neglecting to take care of his family. Yoni’s mother runs a daycare, she dances with the children, picks flowers, and daydreams. Secretly, she is caught up in an affair with a father of one of her students.

The family’s problems seem insurmountable enough without further complications. But then one day Tomer, a family member with mental illness, arrives in the picture. The family doesn’t know how to handle his full time care, and their own problems start to bubble to the surface under the added stress. It only gets worse when people in the community take notice and see the family hanging by a thread.

The history of the family, where these problems began, remains ambiguous for most of the film. Bits and pieces are revealed over time, dropping clues as it accentuates the narrative.

The slow buildup of strife and anxiety are mimicked in Yoni’s Bar Mitzvah lessons. The repetition of the Torah text occurs at key moments to build tension, using the phrases, “the earth filled with evil,” “all the flesh was corrupt,” and “G-d said make an ark,” to signify different states of being, create a contemporary context for the text, and build suspense as we wait for the deluge that will befall Yoni’s family.

Though the focus is always intimate, the film’s use of camera becomes noticeable in times of extreme drama. Point-of-view shots are employed to keep us in our protagonist’s head, like when Yoni is walking through the halls of his school. Other times, it is used as Tomer’s point of view when he wandered off on his own, accentuating the fact that although this is Yoni’s story, Tomer has a key part to play.

Tomer doesn’t move much or speak at all during the film. He feels comfortable sitting on a small boat in the family’s garage, finds solace in collecting bugs and living creatures, and is constantly repeating the Torah chanting that Yoni is supposed to be mastering for his Bar Mitzvah. Sub textually, Tomer is used here as the Noah character, the one that seems to be causing more problems, but is actually forcing the family to identify conflict and make an effort to resolve it.

The themes of the ark, the flood, and a higher power orchestrating it all create a powerful allegory when layered over contemporary struggles with morality. Airplanes flying overhead are used at times when people are looking for an escape. There is a strong use of foreshadowing leading to the climax as the boat in the garage makes its presence known and the “storm” to come builds, all as we are nearing the Bar Mitzvah taking place. The water that eventually comes is deadly, a tumultuous downpour; Not your usual light cleansing. The looming presence of a rain storm is especially poignant for a story taking place in Israel, where rain is a scarce commodity that is usually looked forward to with an earnest eagerness.

Mabul shows the relevancy of Torah in our lives today, by using a biblical narrative as a blueprint for telling a contemporary story. In the end we are put through a dramatic experience that makes us comb the depths of ourselves, and by extension, our modern world.

 Mabul was presented as part of the 16th Sephardic Film Festival in New York City. The goal is “to illuminate the scope of the Sephardic experience; to raise the consciousness of the American Jewish, and non-Jewish, community to a better understanding of Sephardic Jewry; and to present, through the medium of film, the history, literature, poetry, music, dance, customs and traditions of the Sephardic world.”

For more information visit http://www.sephardicfilmfest.org

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