'The Death of Cinema and My Father Too': Film Review

Courtesy of Pardes Films/Films Boutique
A fascinating debut.

Israeli director Dani Rosenberg's feature debut, which received the Cannes 2020 Official Selection label, mixes documentary and fiction.

Just after the midway point in the ominously titled The Death of Cinema and My Father Too (Moto Shel Hakolnoa Veshel Aba Sheli Gam), an Israeli director is filming his pregnant wife, who has been recruited, like everyone else in his family, to be part of the cast of his fiction feature. The scene doesn’t work, so “Lena Dunham,” as he dubs his better half when she proposes a change in the script, suggests another scene altogether, about a pregnant woman waiting for her husband at the gynecologist’s office before a scary exam. But he doesn’t show. 

The scene, shot with a wobbly Canon in one take, is clearly about how the filmmaker got so absorbed by the fiction he’s trying to create that the only way his wife-with-child can get through to him is by inserting her real-life disappointment and anger into his film. The sequence, played to distressing perfection by actress Noa Koler (the revelation from Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan), gets to the heart of the often porous boundaries between fact and fiction that make Dani Rosenberg’s feature so fascinating.

That said, the powerful emotional charge of this particular scene sadly isn’t felt throughout, as Rosenberg’s frequent back-and-forths between fiction, the behind-the-scenes material and real life make it hard for viewers to quickly center and latch onto the emotional stakes that really matter.

Still, festival audiences will enjoy the densely layered fact-and-fiction puzzle that is The Death of Cinema and My Father Too. It also comes anointed with the Cannes 2020 Official Selection label, which will ensure a measure of curiosity and visibility on the festival circuit and on VOD.

The reason that professional videographer Assaf Edelstein (Roni Kuban, with a black beard) concentrates so hard on getting his movie made is that the protagonist of Assaf’s film, his own father Yoel (Marek Rozenbaum, with a white beard), is dying of cancer. Rosenberg thus has a fascinating paradox at the center of his material: Assaf is neglecting certain people in his immediate vicinity, like his wife and their unborn son, in order to concentrate on and capture the last days of his father, who might soon be gone.

This work is complicated by the cantankerous nature of Yoel. The man is a film buff like his son, but doesn’t seem that interested in Assaf’s fiction project; he says it's childish — it’s about a family dealing with an imminent missile attack on Israel by Iran! — but might dislike it mainly because he secretly doesn’t want to leave his son hours of footage of his last days on earth, preferring to go quietly into the night.  

An extra meta layer is added by the fact that Rosenberg’s project sprung creatively from the final days and death of his own father. This forced Rosenberg — the real-life Assaf, so to speak — to consider whether he wanted to (re)shoot their planned film project with an actor. To blur the lines even further, the director’s own mother, the construction engineer Ina Rosenberg, plays Nina Edelstein, Yoel’s wife, and the final shot of her is utterly respectful yet heartbreaking.

The overall result is an eclectic collage of sorts that mixes real life, documentary and fiction on several levels, with shooting techniques ranging from smudgy, on-the-fly smartphone footage to VHS-quality shorts from the past and beautifully composed and lit contemporary tableaux. The screenplay is credited to Rosenberg and co-writer Itay Kohay, while Golden Bear winner Nadav Lapid (Synonyms) is credited as script editor, with the trio no doubt aided by editors Nili Feller and Guy Nemesh in finding the right balance between these different and sometimes quite disparate elements. The result is slightly messy, just like life, but the work’s thematic undercurrents are always clear. 

The biggest asset of this well-acted project is how Rosenberg convincingly explores the strange and potent alchemy of fiction, which uses precise and sometimes personal details to uncover larger, universal truths. Quotidian miracles and mysteries, like the upcoming birth of his child or the approaching death of his father, are contrasted with a fictional scenario that would immediately be part of world history: a military strike against Iran that would then cause a rain of missiles over Israel that could wipe a people and a country off the map.

By placing momentous events next to everyday ones, questions of priorities and scale emerge. How important is the certain death of a father next to the possible death of an entire nation? Are we seeing our own problems in the right perspective? Could the death of Yoel be a relatively small event for himself but a major one for his wife and son? Even if it is an immense loss for Assaf, does Yoel’s demise justify him channeling all his energy and attention into just his father at the detriment of the others around him?

It’s a knotty situation without any clear-cut answers. What finally remains is a sense of how different human reactions are possible to situations we are all likely to face sooner or later. Grace lies in realizing that different reactions to major and minor tragedies might be equally valid — or, if not valid, at least understandable. 

Venue: Cannes Film Festival Market (Cannes Official Selection 2020)
Production companies: Pardes Films
Cast: Marek Rozenbaum, Roni Kuban, Ina Rosenberg, Noa Koler, Natan Rosenberg, Sabina Rosenberg, Ruth Farhi, Uri Klauzner
Director: Dani Rosenberg
Screenplay: Dani Rosenberg, Itay Kohay
Producers: Stav Morag Meron, Dani Rosenberg, Carol Polakoff
Cinematography: David Stragmeister
Production design: Vera Grinblat
Costume design: Rachel Ben Dahan
Editing: Nili Feller, Guy Nemesh
Music: Yuval Semo, Jaroslaw Bester
Casting: Maya Kessel
Sales: Films Boutique

In Hebrew, Yiddish
No rating, 100 minutes