arts, culture & judaica | Two Zionist pioneers not just a historical footnoteby sue fishkoff
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This gentle, moving film chronicles a day in the life of an elderly Israeli couple — members of the founding generation — as they deal with the hardships and indignities of growing old in a society that hasn’t lived up to their Labor Zionist dreams.
But “Epilogue” is more than an ideological screed. As suggested by its Hebrew title, “Hayuta v’Berl,” this is a love story about two strong individuals who have known great hardship and deep disappointment, but who are never ready to give up on their country or each other.
Directed by Amir Manor, “Epilogue,” which screens at 5:20 p.m. March 11 in Pleasant Hill, has been quietly picking up awards on the international festival circuit, most recently last month in India at the Bangalore International Film Festival where it beat out 150 other feature films in the Asian cinema category. Clearly, something in Hayuta and Berl’s predicament has universal resonance.
As the film opens, the couple are preparing for another day in their rundown Tel Aviv apartment. Berl is shuffling down the communal stairs, pilfering neighbors’ newspapers, while Hayuta slowly, painfully navigates her way through a shower.
As the morning continues, we become aware that the two are desperately poor, reliant on an increasingly tenuous social welfare net. In true pioneer fashion they don’t complain — when Hayuta doesn’t have enough money to buy both her insulin and her heart medication at the local pharmacy, choosing sleeping pills instead, she does so without a trace of self-pity. This, simply, is their life.
“We’re not relevant,” Hayuta tells Berl in one of her rare fits of pique.
The film is shot is extremely muted tones, appropriate to the couple’s washed-out dreams. Despite the frustrations they encounter, Hayuta and Berl retain a stubborn optimism that keeps the film from tumbling into pathos. They persevere in the face of humiliation meted out to them by cellphone-obsessed cashiers and bored bureaucrats.
We get hints of the fiery spirits they once were, when Hayuta treats herself to an “Indiana Jones” matinee, and when Berl calls up a radio talk show to announce that he’s creating a new socialist collective and “interested parties” should show up in a nearby park at 10 the next morning. The tender final scene shows the spark that still animates them.
This is a very different look at a changing Israeli society, beautifully acted and sensitively directed. — sue fishkoff
“Epilogue,” in Hebrew with English subtitles (96 minutes)
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