However, Udi Aloni’s first feature, 'Forgiveness,' deserves more than a cynical analysis based on its provocative nature. It is a movie that travels beyond the boundaries of cinematic creation, and can be best described as an exceptional – though at times shallow and simplistic – work of art.
At the heart of the film stands the story of David Adler (portrayed by the excellent Itay Tiran), the son of an Auschwitz survivor who comes to Israel to enlist in the army. After killing a Palestinian girl during his service in Ramallah (an incident that he immediately represses), David suffers from shellshock and is sent to a mental institution to recover.
Death and insanity
This institution, both as a geographical and a metaphorical site, represents the film's thematic core. Built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Dir Yassin, whose residents were massacred by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war, the hospital now houses mostly Holocaust survivors, who were committed there soon after arriving in the country.
At the mental institution, David is treated with an innovative drug that is supposed to erase his traumatic memories. Meanwhile, the old patients at the hospital put themselves through a different kind of therapy – by conducting excavation works at the building’s yard in the course of which they uncover the remnants of the old Palestinian village that used to be there, and of its inhabitants.
Shifting between past, present and future, the movie also includes a love story between David and a Palestinian woman in New York, his brief encounter with a would-be female suicide-bomber at a Tel Aviv nightclub, scenes from a West Bank roadblock, and two alternative endings.
Memory and salvation
'Forgiveness' juxtaposes two prevalent Israeli attitudes to local and national history: One that asserts that forgetting can best cure the traumas of the past; another which suggests that recognition, rather than denial, is the key to dealing with, and eventually healing, this wound.
'Forgiveness' offers a path for recovery and reconciliation. Aloni seems to suggest that by acknowledging the Palestinians’ pain, and our (the Israelis’) responsibility for their suffering, we pave the way for redeeming our sins and being granted forgiveness.
Scene from Forgiveness (PR Photo)
The film’s main weakness, however, lies in its one-sidedness: The director points an accusing finger at the Israelis for their suppression of the Palestinian catastrophe, but neglects to speak about the Arab recognition of the Jewish disaster.
Aloni rightfully spotlights the Israeli tendency to use the Holocaust as a means to justify, rationalize, and belittle the suffering of the other side, but fails to reveal a Palestinian stance that relies on the Nakba for the exact same purposes.
Fantastic and aesthetic
As mentioned before, however, 'Forgiveness' provides the viewer with an exceptional aesthetic and moving experience. Aloni employs music and dance to create powerful images and instill the movie with a fantastic and enchanted atmosphere (which also serves to enhance the uneasy feeling that we are watching a beautifully illustrated metaphor).
However, despite its banal, and sometimes superficial messages, the film’s remarkable beauty and the outstanding performance of all cast members compensate for these shortcomings.
'Forgiveness' may leave you outraged, agitated, or overwhelmed, but it surely won't leave you indifferent.