BERLIN-JERUSALEM (Amos Gitaï, 1989)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Amos Gitaï is Israel’s premier filmmaker. His Berlin-Yerushalaim follows two actual Jewish women who meet in Berlin and separately emigrate to Palestine in the 1940s: German Expressionist poet Else Lasker-Schuler (Lisa Kreuzer, magnificent); Russian revolutionary Mania Shochat, who helped found Israel’s Kibbutz and Labor Movements. The film cautions that these lives “inspired” the film; both women are represented as being much younger than they were at the time.
     The film opens with a screen-leftward traveling shot of the future nation of modern Israel: a sweeping expanse of rocky desert—an aching vision of possibility crying out to people as the Holocaust coalesces in Europe. Gitaï crosscuts between this place and Berlin, with Shochat’s uprooting preceding Lasker-Schuler’s, the death of whose young son seals her decision to move. An upwardly tilted, screen-leftward traveling shot through bony, bleak trees accompanies her voiceover: “There is a lamentation in the world/ As though G_d himself were dead.” In the new land, Shochat suffers a tragic loss to regional violence; Lasker-Schuler’s adjustment is worse. Hers is a cosmopolitan soul. What will be Israel is more hospitable to laborers and laborites—nation builders—than to artists.
     But Lasker-Schuler tries to unite her son’s memory with the future of her new homeland by envisioning a place where children can play in peace. Dressed heavily in black, she is walking outdoors, and the camera keeps apace with her as she walks, walks screen-leftward amidst sounds of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the streets. Cain is killing Abel again, she thinks. Buildings, traffic, radio reports—all these, circa 1989, surround her. No longer do we see her. The camera that has been following her now is completing her long, long walk across 45 years: a stalking spirit of national disappointment. Here is the single greatest shot in Israeli cinema.

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