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|Index||14 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joseph Cedar's wonderful "Campfire" affirms what one had already known:
the quality of Israeli films. As he demonstrates with this heart
wrenching tale that involves a recently widowed woman, at a crucial
moment of her life, "Campfire" shows a director that is in touch with
the situation he is presenting us.
The Gerlick household is not the most pleasant place to be. Rachel, the mother, has lost her husband about a year ago. Esti, the oldest of the two daughters, is having an affair with a young soldier. Tami, the youngest girl, who is at the center of the story, is clearly lost and not being able to cope, or make sense of all what's happening around her.
Rachel is fixed by a friend on a blind date with the shy Yossi, a middle aged man who is the owner of a bus. Their first date at a Chinese restaurant is pleasant, but we don't see sparks fly between them. Yossi is a lonely man who has gone on a lot of similar dates, never ending with a woman of his own, much less a wife.
Tami, the youngest daughter is awakening to sexuality. She is a shy girl who has never done anything wrong and suddenly finds herself at the center of attention from the teen age boys who are up to no good and want to have fun at her expense. At the campfire, a group of boys taunt Tami into doing things she is not prepared for and she is horrified when horrible things are written on the walls of her house deeming her a common prostitute, when in reality nothing has happened.
Rachel finally gets enough courage to confront the leaders of the new development where she would like to relocate with the girls because she realize that she is not wanted and it's the children of some of these people who are responsible for the cruelty toward Tami. After calling Yossi for help on a few occasions, it's clear that he has fallen for Rachel and is accepted by the girls.
The film is bitter sweet with great appearances by the four principals. Michaela Eshet is wonderful as Rachel. Moishe Ivgy has such a noble face, that just one look at him, one realizes this is a decent man who will make anyone happy because he has a lot to give after not having known love in his life. Young Hani Furstenberg is also appealing as Tami and Maya Maron, who was excellent in "Broken Wings" plays the older Esti.
Congratulations to Joseph Cedar and his team for a wonderful, heart-felt film about real people in a real situation.
Campfire (Medurat Hasevet) marks the last film for me during the Israel
Film Festival, and personally, I thought this film was the most mature
of the lot, being honest in exploring the lives and relationships in
all members of a single parent family. Being all women in the house,
recently widowed Rachel Gerlik (Michaela Eshet) takes great pains in
order to protect her daughters Esti (Maya Maron) and Tami (Hani
Furstenberg) from growing pains, and it is in the characters that we
see an observation of romance in three forms.
For Rachel, it is a second chance at real romance. She admits to her daughters that she has never been in love, not even with their father, and opportunity comes in the form of Yossi (Moshe Ivgy) the bus driver, who's attentive and sincere, and while having his own awkward moments at professing his love, you're likely to root for him to get his girl. Rachel though has her hands full, in juggling a fight to be accepted by her community in order to relocate to the new West Bank settlement to start life afresh, now made complicated by a potential love, and in trying to reconnect with her daughters.
In elder daughter Esti, we see budding puppy love, as well as her very distinct opposition with her mom, stemming from Rachel's refusal to provide her with some privacy at home. I guess every parent will have to face their kids at this point in their teenage lives, and hopefully live to tell the tale of triumphant tolerance in the face of constant cynicism. And lastly, probably the saddest of the lot, with Tami and her brush with one ugly emotion of Lust. The English title at least, refers to a pivotal moment in the story which involves around the Bonfire incident, and you can't help but seethe with rage, where writer-director Joseph Cedar succeeds in eliciting anger with a sense of helplessness, and deep despair.
What succeeded too is the performance of Hani Furstenberg in fleshing our her character, as we witness her credible spectrum of emotions ranging from the damsel in distress, and in being able to draw strength from within to deal with her terrible ordeal. Her chemistry with Michaela Eshet is quite amazing, and you will definitely be moved at how their characters interact with each other in the dealing with the fallout, even though it was just a short scene. I guess nobody should be made to suffer in that manner without clear repercussions or punishment, but reminds you in real life that sometimes there are situations where you can't expect everything to go in your favour, even though you're right and are seeking justice.
Instead, we see how one can face up to adversary in whichever form they take, and through Rachel, we realize that the well intent of others, who subconsciously impose their will and thoughts onto yourself, becomes enslaving, and there comes a time where one must break free. Free from living a life dictated by the community, of the need to conform unnecessarily, and to learn to stand on your own two feet. Michaela Eshet encapsulates this development of her character, and you can't help but to cheer silently when she finally breaks free from a mindset bondage.
It might be a small movie with a small principle cast, but its message and lesson couldn't be more than relevant, especially when it comes to the notion of blood being thicker than water, with a mother's love that knows no bounds.
The first question that popped in my head once the ending credits
appeared, was- should I be offended?
This movie, after all, deals with religious-Zionists and I am a movie-buff secular so maybe the depiction of this much maligned (for no justifiable reason, in my humble opinion) sector was credible and not a slanderous attack. I believe I have reached a conclusion.
Today, when a new rift in Israel is emerging over the implementation of the disengagement program lead by prime minister, Ariel Sharon, it's easy to relate to the 1981 struggle against the evacuation of the Sinai peninsula after the signing of the historical peace accord with Egypt.
1981 found Tammy Gerlik (Hani Furstenberg in a wonderful performance) in a Jerusalemite neighborhood with her older sister and widowed mom who decides to move to a new settlement in the occupied territories with her circle of the religious, patriotic and unified but also hypocrite and mistrusting circle of friends. It also finds Tammy in her teenage years when romantic feelings and self-defining questioning begin to emerge. Her generally cheerful personality suffers a major setback when Tammy is nearly raped by a violent teenager with the cheering of his dubious "buddies". With a mother too self-absorbed, and "friends" that tag her as a promiscuous girl, she finds a soul mate in her rebellious sister that is alienated to her mother for abolishing her chance of privacy in a very boisterously funny scene that involves a hammer (can't elaborate, sorry).
In the meantime, the mother, Rachel (Micaela Eshet, in a reasonably good but not much more, performance), is a 42 year old strong woman who had married too early and went through life without falling in love. While shunning as delicately as possible the courting of a highly renowned and severely boring, cantor, she forms a friendship with, Yossi, a bachelor bus driver/ultimate loser who has lost hope of ever conjugating (let alone, wed) an actual woman.
With Yossi as a refuge from the pretense of a strong willed woman, Rachel realizes the true nature of her friends, the frailty of their loyalty and worst of all, their obsession of sweeping unflattering phenomena under the carpet, even at the grave price of perpetuating it for posterity.
The movie is well acted, credibly written and even manages to give the audience the atmosphere of the early 80's when Israelis had one TV channel to watch, one telephone company and a strong sense of patriotism that is disparaged and demonetized by too many these days.
Which brings me to my question in the beginning of this review, should I, the secular guy (who identifies with Yossi the bus driver more than he wishes), should be offended when the religious society is presented in a very critical manner.
The answer to that question is simple: when you are offended on behalf of a grown up group for being disparaged, you might be disparaging it yourself by deciding for them how they should feel.
I feel, personally, that the director, Yosef Cedar (who grew up in a religious background but is pretty estranged to it, according to his own testimony) decided to "indict" his origins. As a result, the viewer is deprived from an unbiased impression of one of the most enigmatic, controversial and riveting sector in contemporary Israeli society.
The movie won as best film in the Israeli Oscar competition and its victory was outshone by the fact that the movie "sof haolam smola" which was one of the most popular films in Israeli history, wasn't even nominated in any of the major categories.
Unfair representation of "Sof haolam smola" in the Israeli Oscar robbed the movie of the buzz it could have generated. Also, the film's unfair representation of a certain sector in the Israeli society left me questioning its antagonism, rather than enjoy its undeniable qualities. Qualities it hones in abundance.
8.5 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter.
I think people either love or hate this movie, and their politics will
have an influence, of course.
The movie shows the less than pretty side of the settler movement and the national religious wing -- the sexism, the hostility toward anyone that doesn't fit the exact mold (even if they support the movement politically), the racism.
The heroine who thinks that going off to a settlement in the occupied territories is - surprise, surprise! - shocked to discover that as a woman without a man, getting accepted will be an uphill struggle (they tell her straight out they need men for not only defense, but prayer quorums, as women don't count there). The near rape of the younger daughter is by nationalistic religious boys who are on the outskirts of their own movement because of their dark skin (the very fundamentalist Shas movement is the result of this discrimination within the religious community, but that's another story).
Of course the religious/settlement people will hate this movie. The people responsible for sending it out of the country will probably be called traitors (and I wouldn't be surprised if there are death threats) for showing the warty side of the settlers among themselves, never mind towards the Palestinians.
Gaon is sure a hoot in his role -- by the way, in real life he is rather center left.
"Campfire (Medurat Hashevet)" will probably draw the most attention for
its insights into West Bank settlers of the 1980's, but I found it more
intriguing as a moving and humor-filled portrait of a family caught at
the conflict between feelings and society, particularly in a boys will
be boys culture.
Like "Broken Wings (Knafayim Shvurot)," this is an Israeli family with teenagers struggling with apolitical grief, but that was a secular family. Like "Upside of Anger," there's a grieving mom struggling with teenage daughters as all are dealing with their loneliness and sexuality. Like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Smooth Talk," it deals with teen girls susceptibility to guys. "Saved!" showed teens dealing with some these issues in a comparable conservative community, but satirically unsympathetic.
Here instead we have a mother in a situation that would be difficult in any time, any place. The mother has just finished her year of mourning for her husband and is at loose ends, financially, emotionally and as a now single parent of daughters anxious to get on with their lives. All three are vulnerable to persuasion. But they happen to be a modern Orthodox family in Israel so their normal developmental stages are buffeted by religious and social strictures on their behavior.
The mother is attracted to the possibility of joining her husband's friends in a group to found a West Bank settlement, more for the companionship and structure it would give to her and her family's life than for zealotry. I'm sure American audiences miss a lot of the political references during scenes of organizing committee meetings, applicant interviews and singing, sloganeering and film viewing (let alone subtleties involved with types and angles of head coverings and length of skirts worn, eating habits and the summer fast day of Tisha b'Av), but the diversity of motivations and social hypocrisy of many of those involved does come through. Going through the process of dealing with these friends and their expectations makes her stronger as an individual, particularly as she reflects on her marriage and what she wants from future relationships.
The triangle of the younger and older women's relationships is among the most emotionally frank I've seen on film in its honesty about insecurities, confusions and peer pressure in male-female relationships, symbolized throughout by the father's car and how they and the guys around them deal with it.
While the mother is pushed to re-enter the dating pool and explores a relationship with some similarity to how Catherine Keener sweetly handles "The 40 Year Old Virgin," the older daughter focuses on her one-track minded hunky soldier boyfriend, seems to be rebelliously secular and is opposed to moving.
The younger daughter absorbs all these contradictory signals. There's a marvelous scene of her exuberantly dancing to romantic pop music at home by herself that is straight out of "My So-Called Life" (or the totemic equivalent for guys "Risky Business") to show that in the U.S. she'd be considered a typical teen ager. Her curiosity about boys is therefore not surprising, so that the adults around her seem rigidly clueless in not expecting that restlessness from her when the appeal of the bad boy is clearly universal. There are occasional references to the complexities of a diversifying Israel that Americans can understand, as when the mother comments the B'nei Akiva youth group isn't the same as when she was young.
The actresses are refreshingly not Hollywood beautiful, though it is clearly a running visual joke when the safe guy choices are not just nerdy but are bursting their untucked shirt buttons, even as it is sympathetic to their pressures as well, making the alternatives that much more attractive.
While this is no "Norma Rae" or "My Brilliant Career" as a feminist tract, nor is it the anti-Orthodox agit-prop of "Kadosh," the film has a strong, fair and balanced humanistic and sweetly forgiving point to make about women in a male-dominated society who are expected to act a certain way and the consequences they face when they step out of line -- and how the men who love them can be supportive as they learn to live together.
While "Campfire" is distributed unrated by the MPAA in the U.S., as a parent I would give it a PG-13. It deals with some of the same issues as PG-rated "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" but in a more serious and mature way as applied to a younger teen.
It's too easy to dismiss this film as just another dump on an Orthodox
Community and/or the West Bank settlements. There really is a Bnei
Akiva and settlements so I can see this kind of thing happening.
Probably because I'm not Jewish I can see that the film depicts
universal situations that could likely happen in any country or culture
other than Bnei Akiva or Orthodox Judaism. I've been at church camps
where the "bad boys" have sung dirty songs in a corner by themselves. I
haven't seen sexual molestation as happens in this film but I wouldn't
say that it's never happened at a church camp. Leaders all over the
world try to cover up a scandal the way Motke tries, doing the wrong
thing just to preserve the image of their business (organization,
political movement, whatever). The search for love is the most
universal desire of all. Rachel and Yossi are in a situation where it's
extremely difficult to find love, when we're over 40. It happens but
not often enough. This film, like many films from countries with
unpopular reputations, should have gained more recognition than it did.
Yehoram Gaon deserves special recognition for coming out of retirement to take on a small part in the film. He could have easily rested on his reputation but he assumes the role of a not particularly likable pompous ass and does it well. Yehoram Gaon was the teenage idol of Israel in the 1960's. He deserves special credit for allowing himself to be photographed old, balding and with his gut hanging over his cummerbund. That's real bravery. But he proves in this film he still has it as a singer in a memorable scene of a cantorial concert. Yehoram Gaon could sing chazanut to this Gentile for hours and I wouldn't mind.
Michaela Eshet also deserves special recognition for her portrayal of a single mother dealing with raising teenage daughters as she simultaneously goes on the dating market after her year of mourning. IMDb doesn't list many film performances of Michaela Eshet so I must assume that her expertise comes from the stage.
This is not a perfect film. The Hebrew title "Medurat Hashevet"should have been more literally translated into English as "Tribal Campfire" to provide a better description of the story line. It would have been better to see Tami's molesters punished, Motke demoted and all the other loose ends of the various situations tied up but there's only so much that can be accomplished in the standard two hours. I'll give this movie nine stars out of ten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joseph Cedar's Campfire takes the 2004 perspective on the West Bank
settlements as they were approached in 1981. Hindsight exposes the
ostensible idealism behind the settlement movement as a violent,
aggressive macho strut.
The foreground story of a one-year widow Rachel, her sexually active and angry daughter Esti and her blossoming teen Tami (who narrates), reflects upon the background story of an ideologically based new settlement planned for the windy desert near Ramallah. Seeking some assurance of community, Rachel is determined to move with her daughters to that settlement, despite its committee's reluctance to admit a manless family who can't contribute to the guard duties. Only Rachel's long friendship with the commune's chief Motkeh's wife gains her even tentative acceptance.
The high-blown principles of the settlement are exposed by Motkeh's callous response to Tami's sexual assault at the festival bonfire. The rough, vicious boys and Motkeh's own hypocritical son reveal a lawlessness and macho bullying underneath the settlement's pretences. That confirms the film's first theme, the vulnerability of women, from Rachel hiding her husband's death from potential car-buyers, to the settlement committee's doubts about her, to the boys' abuse of Tami, which moves from verbal to physical and back to the verbal slander of the graffiti.
The arid macho wind of the settlement in men and boys alike contrasts to the softness of the bus driver Yossi, who admits to Rachel he's a virgin and to Tami that he may lack what it takes ever to marry. When he takes Rachel on a dinner date in his empty bus it's an emblem of a community resource, awaiting fulfilment. His use of his job on a date improves from the contrast to the cantor's burst of Kol Nidrei on the hotel steps on his first date with Rachel.
With all the men in kipahs Cedar frames out the secular Israel. This film is about the religious aspirants and their suspect attitude toward the isolation and loss among its citizenry. In both the cantor's Kol Nidrei and his choral lead bemoaning the people's pathetic condition, viewed from the heavens, the vanity of the singer swamps the submission of the song. Hence the poetic justice when he steps in the cow dung on the settlement's tour with Yossi. So, too, the military's representation by two soldiers, Esti's uniformed beau, who shows respect for her mother and accepts Esti's restraints, and the out-of-uniform boor who has no friends his own age so hangs out with the young boys and violates Tami. Any man's army is ambivalent like that.
Despite Motkeh's communitarian pretensions and the cantor's false modesty and religious pretences, the effective hero is Yossi. He immediately appreciates Rachel more deeply than even her long-term friends do. He means his offer of a bus ride whenever she needs, no strings attached. He's comfortable with her daughters but feels no need to impress them. As he revives the family's dead battery, he restores Rachel's warmth and openness and in general provides a humanity and respect the settlement organizers lack. In the last scene the bus driver sits with Tami in the back seat while Esti drives the family car, her mother at her side. Yossi's unpretentious service is the film's dominant value. A modest but sincere personal commitment trumps the more problematic claims of the organized new community. For more see www.yacowar.blogspot.com.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rafi hangs out with the bad boys. Even though Tami Gerlick(Hani
Furstenberg) is accompanied by her mother and older sister, the boys
still badger the schoolgirl about her reputation. "Is it true you put
out?" challenges the ringleader, in a leering singsong voice that Tami
mistakes as flattery. On some level, she likes the attention; she feels
safe, in spite of the sexual innuendo-laced taunting, because Rafi is
with them, her protector. Rachel(Michaela Eschet) confronts the boy for
disrespecting her little gosling, but the admonitory words do nothing
to deter his predatory stance. Everybody knows that the mother has been
widowed for over a year. Without any man to protect this family of
women, he knows that Tami Gerlick is fair game. He also knows that the
Zionist elders will excuse any prospective transgressions, as "Medurat
Hashevet" tells the story of a mother's struggle to raise her daughters
under a patriarchal construct. Once the littlest Gerlick decides to
brave the hinterlands of secularity at an outdoor religious function,
the outcome results in the wavering of Rachel's blind faith towards her
Zionism, since Motkeh(Assi Dayan), the monolithic leader of a settlers'
movement, tells the single parent candidate to remain silent, after
Rafi, the disappointing knight in shining armor, acts like a mere boy
for Tami in her time of need. Disillusioned, and resigned to accepting
her sex's place in the designs of officious men, Rachel surrenders the
settlement plans she had for the West Bank, in order to join her
daughter in those same hinterlands, where she can watch over Tami, and
the other daughter, the older and rebellious Esti(Maya Maron), with the
help of a new boyfriend, the fifty-something-year-old virgin,
Tired with the campfire songs of her youth group at the official bonfire, Tami suggests to a friend that they join the other fire-starters across the woods: Rafi's hoodlum friends, who had boldly objectified her despite the presence of an attending parent. Prior to this momentous decision, the filmmaker shows us Tami's inquiring mind at work(groundwork for the girl's culpability during her attack), in a scene where the girl positions herself towards a separating wall to get an earful of the extracurricular activities in Esti's room. Tami is made more worldly than your average Israeli girl, in due part to the filmmaker's American sensibility, best exemplified when the girl puts on a record and starts to dance around the empty apartment, a scene which seems lifted out of a Hollywood chick flick. As she sings to her reflection, all that's missing is the hairbrush. The lewd campfire song that sung by Rafi and his friends gives Tami's fledgling female camper pause, but not the precocious adolescent, who's not shy about telling a bawdy joke(like Minnie Driver in Gus Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting") around the alternate campfire. As she gets to the part of her story which involves the first base of erogenous zones, the camera conspires with Tami's attackers by suppling them an alibi, as the camera tilts down to a corresponding breast while she narrates; it's a prompting with an undertone of inevitability, the prelude to a rape, including a grope session before the filmmaker omits the gross breach in amity by an aggregate of restraining hands and cruel torsos. That subtle tilt of the camera suggests a girl who turned her attacker(s) on: a girl who was asking for it. For some viewers, the act of dramatized rape works as a base fetish, so the decision to keep the rape off-screen seems like a respectful one. But by keeping the rape a secret from the viewer(as Tami keeps it a secret from her mother and sister), her continuing adoration of Rafi is made possible. After all, he allowed it to happen, like one of those bar patrons in Jonathan Kaplan's "The Accused". Adding insult to injury, the boys spray-painted her misdeed in stone all over the Zionist jurisdiction of the town. And Rafi let the lie remain there without any gesture towards concealing the affronting words with paint(as Rachel and Esti do). Instead of the cowardly boy making amends with the debased girl, "Medurat Hashevet" shows us the harmful effects of a governing patriarchal mindset when Tami seeks out Rafi, asking him for forgiveness, and expressing surprise in his ongoing interest for her. Tami feels like she's damaged goods. Does the filmmaker feel the same way, too? In other words, is the film critical of God, or the girl? Since Rachel breaks away from her faith, "Medurat Hashevet" has the outward appearance of having contemporary ideas about women, but the handling of Tami's rape seems like a compromise, in which Zionism isn't thrown under a bus and completely trampled by feminism.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film with a group of 60 people, most of whom stayed for a
discussion afterward. The story seemed relatively straight-forward to
me. SPOILERS: It takes place in the 1980's. A group of people
associated with the B'nai Akiva (modern Orthodox/Zionists)want to
establish a settlement on the West Bank close to the Palestinian city
of Ramallah. The focus is on a young widow and her two teenage
daughters. The woman desperately wants to be accepted into the
community. The difficulty from the group's standpoint is that she has
no husband, and this is a highly patriarchal society in which a woman's
place is definitely NOT as head of a family. Rachel, the mother goes on
a couple of blind dates, one with a man (Yossi) who operates his own
bus (Mini-Yossi), the other with a pompous man-of-the-world who is a
cantor in his spare time and who considers himself and artist and is
considered an artist by others. Yossi, never married, is a middle aged
virgin, very plain. In the beginning, Rachel is not attracted to him,
nor to the cantor. It is not until much later in the picture, as Rachel
begins to reveal herself to Yossi, that we learn she never loved her
husband and, though it is unrealistic, she wants to fall in love with
someone who makes the sparks fly. The older of the teen-age daughters,
Esty, is busy trying to make out with her boyfriend behind closed
doors. Tammy, 15, is also very interested in her own sexuality. In the
scene that is the movie's centerpiece, Tammy and a girl friend follow
the "bad boys" of the group to a huge bonfire where Tammy is assaulted
by the oldest member of the group (her friend has immured herself in a
nearby automobile) and raped or, at the very least, seriously abused by
the gang leader and several of its members. Graffiti describing her as
a whore are soon all over the stone walls of the neighborhood in which
she lives. Rachel is accused of being completely self-centered. Facing
the crisis in her family, she takes a vote on whether to join the
settlement community, and when they vote to accept her despite her
status as a single mother, she tells them she is no longer interested.
When the credits roll, the audience is left to anticipate that she will
have sex with Yossi and perhaps marry him. Tammy never reveals exactly
what happened to her but in the final scene announces that she plans to
have a happy year.
When the film was over and the discussion began, the Israeli-born woman leading the discussion began to talk about B'nai Akiva and the settler movement of the 1980's. Several other Israelis present insisted that the movie had little to do with B'nai Akiva but was representative of sexism which pervaded ALL of Israel in the 1980's. Although the discussion leader and others tried to talk about the director's intent (which was certainly a comment on the specific characteristics of the B'nai Akiva movement), the other Israelis would have none of it. They insisted it could have happened anywhere with any group of Israelis.
A point that interested me, but did not get much attention during the discussion, was that, apart from the knit skull caps worn by the men and boys in the film, there were no sign that religion played any part at all in the life of the aspiring community.
Was Tammy raped? Perhaps there was no sexual intercourse but she was certainly assaulted and shamed? Was Rachel all that selfish? Not in my eyes. She was trying to make a place for herself in a patriarchal society. Were the rebellions of her two daughters justified? They were teenagers, experimenting with their own sexuality, and they had lost their father, whom they apparently adored. Did Tammy "invite" the abuse? By the standards of the 1980's, she certainly did. She went searching for the boys and told a dirty joke to fit into the crowd. But it was also clear that she did not expect to be sexually abused and did not "want it," as the boy she was most attracted to inferred.
I felt it was an interesting movie and that it was about what it was about -- and not about all Israelis during that period.
I just saw this movie tonight as part of the Seattle International Film Festival and I knew to expect something great because it won the best feature film "Ophir" in Israel (like Oscar award). I was pleasantly surprised that it was more than just the simple story that is described in the synopsis. It is a human story with a lot of heart. The movie explores falling in love from three different perspectives. It includes all the emotions that go with it. It also shows three different approaches to dealing with the opposite sex and it seems they each learn a bit from each other. The message is universal but the film is unique. Go see it!
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