Sunday, November 4, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Death of a Poetess

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 12th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place November 1st-8th, 2018.

Death of a Poetess
Directed by Dana Goldberg and Efrat Mishori
Festival Information

One of the primary reasons that the Other Israel Film Festival exists is to showcase the fact that there is more than one type of person living in Israel. The complexities of a Jewish state and a native Palestinian population, much of which was displaced during its creation, make Israel especially poignant as a place for this kind of focus, but it’s true in so many areas that where someone comes from can greatly affect how they go through the world. Two people walking through the same streets may have extraordinarily disparate experiences based on little more than the color of their skin or the identifiable nature of their accent.

Two narratives simultaneously play out in this film, happening at different times with separate main characters. Yasmin (Samira Saraya) is an Arab nurse from Jaffa who is being interrogated by the police for her alleged role in a crime. As she insists that she is innocent, she is repeatedly told that she isn’t being honest. Lenny (Evgenia Dodina) is an Israeli scholar from Tel Aviv trying hard to get the clothing she was promised at a shop. The two stories converge as more details of what comes after Lenny’s day and before Yasmin’s become clear and they meet at a bar.

Both Yasmin and Lenny’s journeys are portrayed in black and white, which helps to add a starkness to the ordeal that Yasmin goes through and a monotony to Lenny’s mindless but important errands. Framing them opposite each other highlights the true gap in treatment that exists between people of different cultures and economic classes, with judgments made even before anything is done or said based simply on appearance and nationality. The emphasis that Yasmin’s interrogators place on her evident dishonesty particularly stings since she must go out of her way to prove, repeatedly, that she has done nothing wrong when someone else who didn’t look or sound like her wouldn’t need to say anything in order to avoid suspicion.

The strongest part of this film is the selection of the two actresses who play Yasmin and Lenny. Saraya delivers an emotional performance as a woman well aware of what she’s had to do her entire life to defend her identity pushed past her breaking point with every new insult. Dodina, a six-time Ophir Israel Academy Award nominee with recent performances in “Virgins” and “One Week and a Day,” commands her scenes with a sense of having already experienced plenty in the world and hardly interested in a new perspective. This film has a powerful message, one that shines through even as its seventy-seven-minute runtime occasionally feels long.


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