Review: Israel: A Home Movie

A prismatic meditation on an entire nation, Eliav Lilti’s documentary is history as abstraction.

Israel: A Home Movie
Photo: Alma Films

A prismatic meditation on an entire nation, Israel: A Home Movie is history as abstraction. Culled from hours of 8mm, 16mm, and Super 8 film from the 1930s to ’70s, the film chronicles the Israel timeline not as objective documentation, but as a living memory, with scenes so fleeting as to emulate the transitory nature in which we witness real-life events and how they’re stored. In a shrewd aesthetic decision, there’s little to no context given. Beginning in medias res, the film positions itself from the perspective of the cameraperson, and as such, at these respective moments, the film’s knowledge is equal to who’s filming. Like Room 237, there are no talking heads, only mere voices hovering (and haunting) over the shaky historical mementos the images eventually become, the ghosts of the past almost floating within them. It elegantly establishes a captivating contradiction: In watching the various home videos, which, in essence, are fact, the people sharing their stories show cracks in their subjectivity, their memories recounting different aspects of history than what the film is presenting. It articulates so clearly a discourse between sound and image that’s assumed to be working in concert yet slowly dismantles expectations taken for granted. “Image” is the “truth” that’s recorded history, and “sound” is the “memory” that interprets it differently.

This idea sprouts unexpectedly in various passages, especially in a darkly humorous sequence when two subjects argue how events actually happened when they question the legitimacy of what they’re watching. Since the film’s form is wholly invested in functioning as an ephemeral memory, incidents, however mundane or tragic, are recounted in the offhand manner in which they pass through fleeting recollection, an effect even dulled in time. As we watch a beautiful woman pass through the frames, a reflective narrator causally remarks how she was killed in a terrorist attack before she turned 30, and a beach party is suddenly interrupted when a plane is shot down in midair, sparking the Yom Kippur War. For a nation that has seen its share of fighting, the film never becomes overtly political since the various storytellers narrating never were to begin with, yet irritation is still felt in their voices when recounting such historical conflicts, an unbiased approach where the film remains loyal to the narrator—and points to the fallacies of both sides of a conflict, even ending on a quiet note of hopeful peace. As one man puts it on the subject of television versus home movies, which may or may not be the film’s thesis: “What they were doing was a staged truth. What we were doing was the truth.”

 Director: Eliav Lilti  Distributor: Alma Films  Running Time: 94 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2013

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