This is the third in a series of guest posts by Larry Mark
It was cold, the type of cold that can freeze my now slimmed down post-shloshim moustache and beard. But it was refreshing and I made my way to several premieres that included SWEET MUD, Israel’s official entry to the Oscars; CRAZY LOVE, about an obsessive love affair; and NANKING, a film about the Rape of Nanking.
SWEET MUD is directed by Dror Shaul, whose earlier film, â€œOperation Grandma,â€ was a hit on the Jewish film festival circuit. SWEET MUD, or â€œAdama Meshugaatâ€ in Hebrew, is Israel’s entry to the U.S. Academy Awards, and has been a top grossing film in Israel this winter. Although it failed to be one of the five nominated films for Best Foreign Language Oscar in the United States, it has a good buzz at Sundance.
After viewing it, I found â€œSweet Mudâ€ to be a poor English translation for this powerful film that is called â€œCrazy Earthâ€ in Israel.
Dror Shaul wrote and directed this film about the life of twelve year old, Dvir Avni (Tomer Steinhof), in an Israeli Kibbutz during 1974. Trying to be an individual in a lush, verdant place that demands ideological conformity, at least on its surface, is frustrating on a pre-adolescent. In this dark coming of age tale, Dvir lives in the kibbutz’s children’s house, which was common on Kibbutzim until the 1980’s, and he visits his mother, Miri (Ronit Yudkevitch), each day.
Miri lives alone, having lost her husband to an unexplained death; she is termed emotionally unstable by the kibbutz. Dvir’s older brother is preparing for Army service, and spends most of his time seducing the Scandanavian and other blonde female kibbutz volunteers (just as the filmmaker did when he was a teen).
It quickly becomes clear the Dvir must not only care for himself, but give his mother the strength to overcome her depression, and make it another day. While approaching his ideological â€˜bar mitzvah,’ at the kibbutz, he and his twelve year old cohorts, the â€œpeaches,â€ must learn about equality in theory and practice. But Dvir is too astute, and observes the grotesque and deviant sides of life on the land.
Dror Shaul captures life in an ideological utopian collective, obsessed with petty issues, filled with secrets and bouts of self righteousness, in post-Yom Kippur War Israel and the ramifications of non-conformity. The fact that the name of the Kibbutz, Kibbutz Beit G’vurot, is the same name given to an Israeli cemetery, and that Miri’s boyfriend is from Switzerland, another utopian place, is rather telling.
Shaul, 35, was raised on a kibbutz in southern Israel, Kibbutz Kissufim. He also grew up with a widowed mother. She fought depression, and died when he was 12 from cancer. Six years ago, he found a box of his mother’s letters and realized how much pain she was in and how she was disgusted and confused with kibbutz life. The film stems from these revelations and refreshed memories.
Another film on Jewish craziness is by Dan Klores. CRAZY LOVE is a documentary about an obsessive, pathological love affair that is set in NYC.
I had hoped it wasn’t a Jewish film, but I had spoken too soon. In the film’s opening paragraph, the narrator states that he was feeling happy and good, since it was a Jewish holiday, and he was driving around New York City. He had just come back from making a film in England, when he spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen; and he had to have her.
That man is Burt Pugach, who in 1957 was a very successful, Jewish trial lawyer (or ambulance chaser); and that beauty is Linda Riss, a young Jewish woman with a difficult childhood and aspirations for love and comfort.
The documentary recounts how Pugach wooed Riss. He showered her with gifts and adventures and plane rides. Her cousins and grandmother slowly responded to his wealth and attentiveness. As Riss slowly accepts him, Klores reveals how Linda discovered that Burt was married, how Burt promised that a divorce is in progress
Burt’s lies grow from there.
When Linda dumps the lying Pugach, Burt responds by hiring thugs to blind Linda by thowing acid in her face. The ensuing events sold many New York City tabloids in 1959. Klores wrote, â€œIt is a story of obsession, love, behavior, mental illness, desperation, violence and forgiveness.â€
To me it was a frightening story filled with insanity, lust, unexpected surprises, and plastic covered furniture in New York City.