“SIEGE”— Fear and Mourning

 “SIEGE”(“Matzor”)

Fear and Mourning

Amos Lassen

Tamar (Gila Almagor) lost her husband in the 1967 Six Day War, and now wants to put her pain behind her and find new love. However, her late husband’s friends and family expect that her to remain in mourning for the rest of her life in order to keep his memory alive. Unlike most films made in Israel shortly after the Six Day War 1967 war, “Siege” was not a look at the euphoria of victory, but rather captured feelings of fear and mourning.

“Siege” was originally released in 1969 and is, as far as I know, the first Israeli film to be digitally restored because it is such a unique film. “Siege should receive much more attention in Israeli culture. It was one of the first films to deal with war and mourning from a female perspective.”  

Shot in black and white, it tells the story of a young Israeli widow and her attempts to find some semblance of normalcy following the death of her husband during the Six-Day War. Gila Almagor as Tamar lends texture to the political dimension of this film by director Gilberto Tofano who examines women’s emancipation in a country stifled by social conventions.

The film was made two years after the Six-Day War, at a time when the country was riding high on a sense of euphoria. It served as a reminder to the entire country that even though Israel won the war, it lost lives, with women also sacrificed as collateral. “Siege” expresses the idea that there is no winner in war. There are victims on both sides of the conflict.

Wider Israeli society at the time put war widows under constant supervision. They were expected to submit to the rules of society. To fail to do so was to be very badly seen indeed. A war widow was required to live alone, carry sorrow in her heart, and take care of your children. Some were forced to leave the country in a bid to rebuild their lives and live without fear of reprisal. Today, women are freer, more independent. This film is an important testimony to how things once were.

Director Tofano decided to splice the film with documentary images and this was a first in the history of Israeli film. This narrative style is reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard and the New Wave directors. By calling into question the weight of convention that rests on widows’ shoulders in Israel, he took a bold chance.

The film also stars Yehoram Gaon as Tamar’s husband’s friend and Dan Ben Amotz as her lover. All three actors are icons of Israeli cinema. “Siege” had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, 1969 and at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival the restored film was shown. It was the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Academy Awards. 

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