“Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”
Where Life Takes Us
Saar Maoz is a gay man from a religious family in Israel who after being kicked out of his conservative religious kibbutz because of his sexual orientation, goes to London where he enjoys a gay lifestyle that was denied to him in Israel. He lives the dream, but wakes up to discover a nightmare —he has contracted HIV. When he breaks the news to his family, they struggle with fears and prejudices.
primarily a movie about Saar’s relationship with his family (and his conscience), and it is also a representation of Israeli life. That representation reinforces my worries about Israel being inhabited and partially governed by zealous religious extremists. They may not be violent extremists (governmental geopolitics aside) but they live their lives based on the writings of the Torah literalists with little or no regard for what the modern age has brought. Having come from quite a similar background, I wonder everyday how we can communicate with such strict and conservative people. I know what this attitude has coast me personally and it was what initially led me to leave America in the 1960s and move to Israel where I discovered it exists as well.
It is on this issue that the film maintains a balance and directors Tomer and Barak Heymann never let one side gain the upper hand. The film shows great patience with differences of opinion and there were times during the scenes of Saar’s family that I wept openly as I was reminded of my own life. The Heymann brothers use great restraint in allowing both sides of the family to speak, and the only time we sense really bigotry is when Saar’s ego heavy brother speaks (his wife saves the day). We see Saar’s family as unrepentant religious conservatives. In Saar’s mother, we see a woman seesawing between loving her son and worrying about him believing in the Torah punishes homosexual behavior is punishable by death. To somewhat lighten the mood as we watch this, we see the directors’ compassion and humor as it cuts back and forth between footage of the Israeli Gay Pride parades and the scenes of the London Gay Men’s Chorus. In these we see two very different kinds of masculinity.
Saar Maoz is 40-year-old man (when the film was made) and was a paratrooper in the Israeli Army. He was born and raised on Sdeh Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz but because of his sexuality, he was asked to leave. He had been there with his large extended family and he moved to London to kick-start his life anew and perhaps find the love he was seeking. If I find any fault with the film, it is with the actions of the kibbutz not being explained fully enough. I cannot help wonder why his parents did not speak up on his behalf. We are simply told that the kibbutz evicted him.
The film actually begins some 18 years after his leaving Israel. We learn that he had been involved in a three-year relationship with the guy he thought he would be with forever, but that forever had recently ended. After that there was another relationship that took him into the world of wild sex and drugs and Saar was then diagnosed HIV Positive. His family in Israel struggled with this and held judgmental opinions on what they considered the results Saar’s life style choices as they called it. Now feeling the need for family, Saar join the London Gay Men’s’ Chorus and there he found unconditional love and fellowship that was so important to him. It was through the chorus that he was able to start a process of reconciliation with his own biological family.
Soon Saar realized that he was standing with each foot in a different world and he knew that he had to come to a decision about the rest of his life. between the two worlds and he knows he must make a decision. On one hand there was the chance of going home to Israel and back to his family while on the other hand there was staying in London and living away from them forever. Saar shares that he had never really fulfilled the expectations his parents had for him making the decision all the more difficult. He felt that being barred from the settlement meant that as far his parents were concerned, he did not exist.
I found myself totally identifying with Saar but without the reconciliation. I did not leave my family because I had to, I left to start a life in Israel and thinking that I had said goodbye to America forever. My father and I never got along and my moving to Israel before the advent of the Messiah meant that I no longer existed for him. It was not my sexuality that was the issue (although it certainly contributed to the discordance between us). I knew that I would never see either of my parents again and until one goes through that, it is impossible to describe what kind of feeling it is. And I never saw them again. My mother died some five years before I returned to the states and, ironically, my father died while I was at the airport in Israel preparing to board the plane that would take me to America. When I returned to the States, they were both gone. I learned the hard way that we can never underestimate the power of religious fundamentalism. (It is not my life at issue, however, and you will have to wait for my book to learn what happens then).
One of the things that I really love about this film is the way stereotypes of gay men are broken down. It is not all about sex and promiscuity but about looking to be loved and to love. Something else that hit me very hard was what the film has to say about the kibbutz and communal life in Israel. Saar’s experiences reflect that communal way of life that is very much into culture and religion. I lived communally as an open gay male on a kibbutz in Israel long before Saar’s saga and really had no trouble. I found Saar to be inspiring in that he left what he knew to go to a place he did not know in order to life openly. In that, his search for his identity was much like mine with the exception that I went to Israel when the state was not yet 15 years old with the idea that I was going to help build a nation.
At age 40, it is difficult to be separated from family regardless of reasons and it is interesting that Saar’s parents want him to come back even though he has eschewed Orthodox Judaism and his friends in the chorus are helping him deal with his HIV status. This is such a personal and yet universal movie that must be seen.
Saar’s mother weeps for her son’s future, while his father asks if there is some way to cure this homosexual illness (like taking a pill) and he has a rough time with the chorus being named the gay men’s chorus and not just men’s chorus. I see Saar as a woeful man who at forty deals with guilt and introspection while his father trains paratroopers, and his tearful Jewish mother loves her son.
When Saar then goes back to the Kibbutz for a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, his family who have been openly ostracizing him, criticize Saar’s sexuality and his diagnosis openly and this is very difficult to watch with dry eyes. They do not want to hear what he has to say and what they voice is based purely on their own lack of knowledge of what he is dealing with and how others in the world feel. Saar reacts quietly and calmly and reminds them that he did not abandon the family by choice and that they have basically ignored him since he left.
The Heymanns handle this beautifully and show us both sides and even linger on the arguments. It hurts to hear what one of Saar’s brothers has to say to him but then his father comes to visit him in London a thaw begin as father and son try to understand each other more. It is then that Saar begins to understand that his feelings for his family and his homeland are much stronger than he had ever thought and he knows that the time for decisions has come.bHere is a story about the power of forgiveness and what home means even when we are not there. This is so much more than the story of a gay man at odds with his family and the expectations of society especially in Israel which today grants the same freedoms to gays as it does to the rest of the country (although it was not that way for a good part of the time that I lived there). We are reminded that people change and hearts open and things are not always as bad as we think. I do not think that Saar will ever have to worry about who is going to love him now again.