Cities, territories, frontiers. Aspects of cinema by Amos Gitai
Amos Gitai, (Haifa, 1950), a filmmaker who lives between Israel, France and the United States, has produced more than 40 documentary and fiction films that reflect the strata of Middle Eastern history and the future of modern Israel, including his own personal experience through themes such as home, exile, religion, social control and utopia.
This program intends to go deeper into some characteristic aspects of his work, and for this reason the films that have been selected share the common starting point of using a place as a social and political microcosm. The plots unravel in concrete places: cities, territories and borderlands that are converted into the true protagonists of the stories. This produces a reduced model, a very limited geographical and human centre as a metaphor for a much wider reality. Gitai uses an extremely quick production process, sometimes with shootings of only ten days. This allows him to show a very ambitious aesthetic program that views cinema as an element of resistance and as a symbolic counterweight to the power of the international media that contaminates the world with commercial images made for its exclusive use.
Another aspect inherent to the program is the reflection on the condition of film as fiction or documentary, formats used by Gitai to cover distinct views on the same conflict. In works of fiction the events have a more symbolic feeling, while in documentary films Gitai satisfies his desire to contemplate the present. This need to flee from one incontrovertible representation of reality also takes form in the idea of the trilogy. The program brings together three of them, House, Wadi and the Trilogy of the Cities, which cover thirty-five years of work.
Gitai's use of documentary films explores different objectives linked to the experience of time. On one hand, as occurs in his first trilogy about a house, the documentary is used as process which consists in going back over one's steps, filming what time has erased, the remnants of what has changed and the marks of what remains. However, this same mechanism achieves different results in the Wadi trilogy. According to Jean Michel Frodon, "time, in Israel, is a strategic material, almost a military secret. For the imagination, with its political consequences, everything seems to take place in a space of condensed time, without any need to know either the past or the future, as if the ‘young state' had been born the day before, as if in every instance it was inventing its ideological model". This statement is evidence of surroundings completely energised by fantasies of control and conquest. In this way, filming the whole time, face to face with the protagonists of a specific reality, may be considered the most radical critical option. From the freedom of his position as a witness, Gitai tries to offer a subjective view of a region with no cinematic tradition.
Two historic films have been saved for the last screening, which give a precise vision of what the land was like where the nation of Israel began: Description of a Struggle (1960) by Chris Marker and Sopraluoghi in Palestina (Il vangelo secondo Mateo) (1964) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, visions of the times recalled in the films by Gitai, which deal with the same themes.
[Program subject to last-minute changes]
Wednesday, from 30th April to 9th July, (except 18th June and 2nd July) at 7.30 pm
House, 1980. 51 min, documentary
Meeting between Amos Gitai and Marie José Sanselme, screenwriter for Gitai's films since 1997.
This first medium-length film, key in Amos Gitai's film career, narrates the story of a house in West Jerusalem that was abandoned during the war of 1948 by its owner –a Palestinian Doctor– and its new owners. Censored by Israeli television, the film analyses social changes from the creation of Israel until 1980.
A House in Jerusalem, 1998. 87 min, documentary
Eighteen years after House, Amos Gitai goes back to the same scene to observe the transformations which have taken place in the area, its new middle class Jewish inhabitants and their relationships as neighbours. Gitai works like an archaeologist, revealing a complex labyrinth of destinies under many layers.
News from Home / News from House, 2006. 97 min, documentary
Twenty-five years after beginning, this film completes Gitai's first trilogy. The house is no longer the microcosm it was 25 years earlier; its inhabitants have moved away and the public space has disappeared. However, the place remains as an emotional and psychological symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Amos Gitai visits Amman to meet the dispersed members of the Dajani family, the first owners of the house, and ends with a meeting in the house of Arabic labourers who remodel Israeli buildings.
Wadi, 1981–1991, 97 min, documentary
This is the second film in the trilogy on the Wadi region east of Haifa, in which we find the Wadi Rushmieh in a canyon where it was the enclave of a fragile coexistence between Eastern European immigrants, concentration camp survivors and Arab immigrants evicted from their lands during the 1980s. Ten years after Wadi (1981), in which Gitai examined the complex personal relationships of various Jewish, Arab and mixed couples, the protagonists are still there. However, living conditions have gotten worse and new immigrants from Russia have arrived. The circumstances and individual stories are useful for reflecting on the social and political situation in the region and its relentless deterioration.
Wadi Grand Canyon, 2001, 90 min, documentary
Twenty years later, Gitai completes this second trilogy by visiting Wadi once again. The area has been almost completely destroyed by real estate speculation. Of the three groups of people the film centres on, only Yussuf and his wife Isha remain, the heroic survivors of a place dominated by malls built on the summit of the wadi; the promised land reduced to a stereotype.
Devarim, 1995, 110 min, fiction
Taking place in Tel Aviv, this film is the first in the trilogy on cities which is completed with Yom Yom (in Haifa), and Kadosh (in Jerusalem). Devarim describes the spiritual uprooting of three men between the ages of 30 and 40 in a moment of excitement and chaos in a city created by Jewish pioneers in 1909. It is a film that deals with a generation's disenchantment with its own legacy.
Yom Yom, 1998, 97 min, fiction
Yom Yom relates a moment of moral and political confusion in Haifa that may seem almost idyllic today. The film is structured around a series of vignettes in which we glimpse the daily dilemmas of the family life of Moshe, a 40-year-old man, the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother, whose wife is cheating on him. The city of Haifa at the end of the 1990s, known until then for the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Jews, paints a dark portrait of the existing typologies in Israeli society.
Kadosh, 1999, 110 min, fiction
Kadosh (Sacred), describes the daily life in an ultra-orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, the suffering and the possible reactions to this suffering by members of a couple whose lives are dedicated to religion and whose culture impedes the expression of personal pain.
Description of a Struggle, Chris Marker, 1960
Sopraluoghi in Palestina (Il vangelo secondo Mateo) , Pierre Paolo Pasolini, 1964
Marker's film shows collective life in a kibbutz in the years prior to the creation of Israel. Sopraluoghi, the diary filmed by Pasolini in his search for locations for his Il vangelo secondo Mateo, offers reflections on the area, and specifically on the prevalence of atavism, represented by the Palestinians' way of life in the face of modern Israeli society.
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