'Ben-Gurion: Epilogue': Film Review
Yariv Mozer's documentary features excerpts from a previously unseen interview with Israel's founder.
Ben-Gurion: Epilogue, about the legendary founder of Israel, is not so much a documentary as an invaluable historical document. Featuring footage from a six-hour interview with David Ben-Gurion that has never been seen before, Yariv Moser’s film is essential viewing for anyone interested in Israeli history. Currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC’s Film Forum, where it is sharing a screen with the thematically complementary documentary The Settlers, the film should have an extended life in ancillary markets.
The interview with the 82-year-old former Israeli leader was held at his remote, isolated home in the Negev Desert in 1968, five years after he had resigned from the government. It was done as research for a feature film about Ben-Gurion which was released in 1970 but quickly faded into obscurity. The black-and-white footage, discovered at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem, was missing the soundtrack, and the audio portion was subsequently retrieved from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Negev. They have been put together here for the first time.
Casually clad in a sweater, Ben-Gurion delivers thoughtful and candid answers to his Interlocutor’s questions. The conversation deals with personal and philosophical matters at least as much as historical, at least in the segments seen here. The elder statesman talks about his lifelong love of reading, saying that he was highly impressed by Uncle Tom’s Cabin when he was 8 years old. He shrugs when asked if he fears death (his wife had passed away two years earlier), asking, What good would it do?” He also points out that too many Israelis want to live in places like Tel Aviv, commenting, “Big cities are not good for humanity.”
Among the historical issues discussed are the controversy that ensued when he met German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to discuss reparations for the Holocaust, which many Israelis considered to be “blood money.” Saying that he doesn’t believe that all Germans were Nazis, Ben-Gurion comments, “History is not moral.” Most surprisingly, this founder of Israel, one of the most famous Zionists in history, refuses to label himself as one.
The film also includes relevant archival footage, including Ben-Gurion addressing the Israeli Knesset in a speech whose listeners included Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. More amusingly, he’s seen taking his doctor’s advice to practice standing on his head, which he does without self-consciousness on a beach. Other scenes show him interacting with Ray Charles, who asks him what kind of music he likes, and Albert Einstein, in the yard of his home in Princeton, N.J.
Modest and self-effacing, Ben-Gurion shows no traces of pomposity despite his vital role in his country’s history. When he’s told, “You guided Israel,” he replies, “I didn’t guide Israel. I guided myself.” During the final session — the interview was conducted in two-hour segments over three days — when the questioner announces that he’s ready to wrap up, Ben-Gurion protests, saying that they have 10 minutes left.
The only frustrating aspect of this cinematic treasure is its brevity. It’s to be hoped that at some point more footage from the historic interview will be made available.
Production companies: Mozer Films, Quark Productions, ARTE France, NDR Germany
Director-screenwriter: Yariv Mozer
Producers: Yael Perlov, Yariv Mozer, Juliette Guignon, Patrick Winocour
Executive producer: Schaul Scherzer
Editor: Yael Perlov
Composer: John Keltonik