“Hide and Seek” (“Machboim”)
Early Film from Israel with a Gay Theme
In the last few years we have seen several movies with gay themes coming out of Israel but it was not always like that. But then again, there was a time during the 80s and 90s that the LGBT community had no rights and was totally hidden and closeted (but not by choice). There were a few brave gay Israelis who dared to speak up like Amos Gutman who in 1983 dared to release “Drifting” a bold film and the story of a young gay Israeli (Jonathan Sagall) coming to terms with his sexuality in a country which did not want him to be. However, three years earlier, Dan Wolman released “Hide and Seek” which not only had a gay theme but also dealt with Israeli/Arab relations when an Israeli gay and an Arab gay find each other.
Twelve year old Uri believed that Balaban, his tutor, was a spy. He sees him meeting with a young Arab male. It was only later that he learned that Balaban was interested in the Arab for romantic and not political and security reasons. The story unfolds slowly as Wolman spends time building up the story, image by image. The main story here is of a boy discovering the complexities of life. The movie highlighted several of Israel’s stars—Gila Almagor, Efrat Levi and Doron Tavori, all of whom went onto wonderful careers in film but I believe that the only one we still see on the screen is Almagor, Israel’s prize actor.
The film is set in 1946 in Jerusalem during the British mandate of Palestine and it is beautifully recreated here. This was two years before the creation of the state and it is important to remember that both Jews and the Arabs lived in Palestine under the British rule from 1917 to 1948.
I understand now that the film is somewhat a biography of Wolman and Uri is a look at the director as a young boy. Uri lives with his grandfather, a nice guy, while his father is in America raising money with a Jewish agency to buy weapons for the Zionist cause. His mother works for a European Jewish agency that helps orphans from the death camps find homes in Palestine. Though bright, Uri is unable to sit still long enough to study for his school exams and runs wildly around with a pack of spoiled children playing childish games and participating in petty mischief in his neighborhood. A young private tutor named Balaban is hired and at first Uri is rude to him. But the sensitive Balaban, who is scheduled to be a regular teacher in the school for the next year, bonds with the troubled youngster and gets him to concentrate on his studies. One day while the children are running around in the park, they spot Balaban talking with a young Arab. They immediately suspect he’s a collaborator with the British rulers, as the underground has put out the word there’s an informer amongst them. When they catch the two together again, they report Balaban to the underground. The underground finds the two in bed making love and administers a severe beating to both, which Uri observes and realizes he made a mistake.
Here is a story about morality and shows that jumping to conclusions and not be tolerant and accepting can cause terrible harm. When released, the film was controversial not only because of the gay content but also because it showed an Arab having an affair with an Israeli. It also deals with the question of war being the only solution.