Israel: A Home Movie: Film Review

This haunting cinematic collage puts a human face on the country's strife-wracked history.

Eliav Lilti's documentary uses amateur home-movie footage to depict the history of Israel in its first several decades.

For those not directly involved, home movies usually have a mundane air, chronicling moments whose emotional immediacy is heightened only by their nostalgic atmosphere. But the glimpses of often trivial everyday life captured in Eliav Lilti’s documentary Israel: A Home Movie have an inevitably more powerful impact since they take place over the course of the country’s first four decades. Devoid of overt politicizing or much informational context, the film, currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City’s Film Forum, vividly conveys how ordinary people are impacted by historical events.

Culled from amateur 8mm, 16mm and Super 8 movie footage shot from the 1930s through the 1970s and gathered from the attics and closets in which they’re usually stored, the film presents a series of often indelible images: A beach party taking place on Yom Kippur in 1973 is interrupted by the sight of a fighter plane being shot down; a 1967 wedding is conducted in a cave in newly conquered territory; a mosque’s minaret is destroyed, with offscreen observers debating whether it was a sacrilegious act; a beautiful young woman smiling into the camera, with a relative casually mentioning that she was killed by a terrorist attack when she was 30-years-old; and, more amusingly, Moshe Dayan urinating in the desert.

The famed general is not the only historical figure on display, as there are also glimpses of such important Israeli personages as Ariel Sharon and David Ben-Gurion, as well Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during his groundbreaking visit to the country.

Such seminal events as the massive influx of European refugees during the ‘30s and ‘40s, the Holocaust, the creation of the Israeli state, and the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War are the backdrop to the often scratchy footage. A major theme is the relations between Jews and Arabs, with several commentators pointing out that it wasn’t always so contentious.

Viewers should not expect a straightforward history lesson, with a reasonable knowledge of the country’s history proving crucial to the film’s impact. But this striking cinematic collage provides a hauntingly personal perspective on a country that has been wracked by strife from its very beginnings.

Opens July 10 (Alma Films)

Director/screenwriter: Eliav Lilti

Producer: Arik Bernstein

Editors: Roni Klimovsky, Tanya Schwartz, Avigail Dahan

Composer: Yuval Mesner

Not rated, 93 min.