A Tale of Love and Darkness

A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS. Israel, 2015. Starring Natalie Portman, Gilad Kahana, Amir Tessler. Directed by Natalie Portman. 100minutes. Rated M (Mature themes)

This is certainly a tale of love, especially a mother’s love for her son, but even more certainly a tale of darkness, a tale of depression.

The subject of the film is the Jewish writer, Amos Oz, a memoir about his childhood and his relationship with his mother and father, but especially his mother. The film opens with an older actor as Amos walking through the streets of Jerusalem in more recent times but his memory going back to the 1940s, especially the end of World War II, living in Jerusalem, the uncertainty with the Palestinians, the movement towards the State of Israel and the presence of the British and their withdrawal – and the United Nations vote in 1948 for the State of Israel.

Natalie Portman is the driving force behind the film, not only portraying Amos Oz’s mother but also adapting his memoir for a screenplay and directing the film. She brings a certain intensity to the film which is something of a grim experience even, at times, a glum experience.

Amir Tessler portrays the younger Amos Oz, the young boy who relishes stories, especially listening to those various stories told by his mother, in the film visualising them, for instance, a woman drowning and being rescued, with mother and son seen in these roles, and two monks silently wandering the desert until there is a crisis and they have to speak. Amos’ father is a literate man, writing on literature, even publishing a book and working in a library. Amos’s mother, has a strength of character, but is overcome by the situation at home, in Jerusalem, and, especially, in the British occupation and its consequences.

While the film highlights the diaspora of the Jews over millennia and the great joy in the establishing of the State of Israel (a strong scene showing the crowds listening to the radio in the streets with the countdown of the countries voting yes, the Arab countries voting no and various countries abstaining, including Britain), Finia descends into deep depression. The screenplay points out that she came from the Ukraine with her mother and sisters, has a hankering for her past life and the idealised picture of a young working man, contrasting with severity of her mother’s views, although she gets great comfort from her sisters.

The film is of interest for those who want to know more about Jewish settlement from Europe in the 1940s, in the consequences for their living in what was about to become Israel, tensions with the Palestinians (although is that there is a pleasing sequence when the young Amos befriends a young Arab girl), establishing Israel in the 1940s and the consequences.

Jewish Film Festival     Released April 14th

Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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