“A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS”
Growing Up in Jerusalem
“You can find hell and also heaven in every room. A little bit of evilness and men to men are hell. A little bit of mercifulness and men to men are heaven”…. Amos OZ
Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman makes her debut as writer and director with this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz. She also stars in the story about growing up in Jerusalem before the establishment of the State of Israel. Oz’s family, one of the many who immigrated to Palestine to escape European persecution and consisted of his academic father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana) and his dreamy, imaginative mother, Fania (Portman).
While Arieh was cautiously hopeful about the future, Fania was not satisfied. The terror of the war and anxiety concerning immigration was replaced by the tedium of everyday life that weighed heavily on Fania’s spirit. She was unhappy in her marriage and intellectually stifled, Fania entertained her ten-year- old Amos by making up stories of adventures the desert. Amos was enraptured when Fania read him poetry and explained words and language in a way that influenced him all his life and certainly contributed to what made him become a writer. Fania never felt the sense of life that she hoped for and she slid into isolation and sadness and she was beyond help. Amos had to say good-bye to her before he was ready. As he witnessed the birth of a nation he had to come to terms with his own new beginning. With the end of the British mandate and the people living in the area were about to create the new state of Israel, Amos kept pushing forward with the memories of the stories his mother shared with him. His relationship with his mother helped to define him as a future writer, journalist, and advocate of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, this film is about his love letter to his mother that she would never be able to read….
The film begins with our hearing the voice of an older Amos Oz and we see how young Amos and his mother, Fania (Natalie Portman) as they talked with their hands. It was not long before the conflicts that created chaos in the city of Jerusalem and made Fania have terrible and constant headaches began. Fania sees Amos as her only happiness and a reason to keep going as far as her strength allows her. As the movie moves forward, we see Amos in many other situations where he must act like a grown up to not give up the way his mother does. We see how Jerusalem reacts to and deals with poverty, war, and uncertainty and this affects Fania and her family which makes it impossible for them to help her.
But above all else what we see here are the pointless and dreadful conflicts Jewish people had gone through, and how many more lives are being taken because of people’s acts of inhumanity. This is really about how love is the only thing that can take one person through hell and darkness. We also see that Oz’s writing is concerned the fragility of his home country, Israel, with which he is inseparably connected.
As Israel itself comes of age, we see the effects on the lives of its new and cosmopolitan population. Amos’ father’s career as a writer is fruitless and his marriage lacks all of the fervor that Fania imagined. Her disillusionment sets in motion a slow process of fading health, depression and solitude, with the adoration of her innocent son being a single source of joy. The film is a slightly sentimental at times, especially when it undertakes to break down complex politics into aphorisms. The film is at its best when it focuses on personal developments, which are quite often triggered by the historical situation. The slow decline of Amos’ mother’s health and her once keen imagination are connected to the harsh realities around her, and this is quite sad. It is in these scenes that the Portman’s best artistic decision becomes obvious: the casting of herself in the demanding role of a melancholic storyteller who breaks under the dissolution of her dreams.
Natalie Portman has adapted Amos Oz’s autobiographical memoirs in such a way as to attempt to present less-than-straightforward positions around a still very contentious issue. Sometimes the pacing is off but nonetheless, this is a beautiful and assured movie and it makes a place for Natalie Portman on the other side of the camera.