“Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”
Where Life Takes Us
I have often reviewed films about the Israeli directors Tomer and Barak Heymann and they never disappoint. Their newest is about a subject that is quite close to me and I understand it is knocking them everywhere it has been shown.
Saar Maoz is a gay man from a religious family in Israel who after being kicked out of his conservative 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. Saar is lucky to have the support and warmth of his surrogate brothers, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, he begins a reconciliation process with his biological family in Israel.
Saar finds himself between the two worlds and he knows he must make a decision—should he go home to Israel and back to his family or stay in London and live away from them forever? It is quite a difficult choice especially when we learn that Saar has never fulfilled his parents’ expectations. Ever since he defied the rules of his kibbutz and was barred from the settlement community seventeen years ago, he does not exist in his family’s eyes. After he left Israel to live freely as a gay man in London, he was in a three-year relationship but when that ended, he threw himself into an excess of sex and drugs. When he was HIV positive, he was forced to rethink his life. He finally found a home singing in the London Gay Men’s Chorus where music is giving him the courage for a reunion with his family.
This is a sensitive, humorous and charming record of how the now forty-year-old protagonist and his estranged parents and siblings set off to confront their disagreements and fears. My story is similar to a degree. 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 but 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. When I returned to the States, they were both gone.
Saar, on the other hand, felt rejection and that is really hard to forgive. To return to Israel would be a challenge. What Saar experienced has a good deal to say about the communal way of life that is very much into culture and religion, although I lived communally as an open gay male 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. Yes, youth might be wasted on the young but if we would stop to think that when we were young that was the case, we probably would have acted differently. Now Saar’s parents want him to come back but he has eschewed Orthodox Judaism and his friends in the chorus are helping him deal with his HIV status. This is such a personal movie and that is exactly the reason it must be seen.
Saar’s mother weeps for her son’s future, while his father asks rather stoically, “can’t you just take a pill for this?” or “why don’t you just call it the ‘men’s chorus’?” Here we have the story of a troubled man facing middle age whose strict father trains paratroopers, whose tearful Jewish mother loves her son and whose uncomprehending siblings have their own families. We become very aware of both the guilt and the introspection that Saar has to deal with and, in effect, that is the theme of the film.
Then in the movie there are cutaways to motivational songs performed by a hundred cheerful gay voices lifting us occasionally from the depression we feel about Saar’s family. The songs and music also lend passionate expression to the film’s message.
The film was shot over several years and dwells on the power of forgiveness and the power that home has, no matter how far away we go. Saar comes across as a nice guy who says he has HIV because he binged with sex and drugs after his breakup with his partner. He works at an Apple store yet always there in front him and us is his religious family. We learn that he was forced out of the kibbutz where he grew up and this is still a source of embarrassment for his family. He has been in London for nearly 20 years. His mother cries for her son’s future and his father is strict about his son. Saar finds love singing in the chorus as I sit and watch the movie and weep with his mother.
This is not just the story of a gay man at odds with his family and the expectations of society especially in Israel which 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). But then, Saar’s brother is quite upset that Saar is sick and that disease affects the standing of the family.
This is an intimate film at times but it has to be because it is about feelings and it gets us to share our feelings as well. Take my word for it, this is a film that you must find a way to see.