Film-Forward Review: MY FATHER MY LORD

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Assi Dayan as Rabbi Edelman
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MY FATHER MY LORD
Directed & Written by David Volach
Produced by Eyal Shiray
Director of Photography, Boaz Jonathan Yacov
Edited by Haim Tabakman
Released by Kino International
Hebrew with English subtitles
Israel. 73 min. Not Rated
With Assi Dayan, Sharon Hacohen Bar & Ilan Griff

A rabbi spends long hours in his study preparing his sermons, and, deep in prayer, is the last one to leave the synagogue each night. His son falls asleep in a pew waiting for him to finish. So far, the story parallels others about secular, overworked parents who neglect a childís sense of fun and wonder. But debut writer/director David Volach overemphasizes the parents' rigidities in his intimate portrait of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, told from the restless perspective of a young boy. Though stern, Rabbi Abraham Edelman (Assi Dayan) and his obediently devout wife, Esther (Sharon Hacohen Bar), clearly adore their only child, little Menachem (Ilan Griff).

For his education, he is crowded into an all-male yeshiva that features rote memorization and the studying of Abrahamís near-sacrifice of Isaac. This central test of a fatherís faith through his willingness to give up his son in unquestioning obedience to God has been debated through millennia by philosophers and poets, and is here reduced to a somewhat bizarre childís patter song illustrated with paper cut-outs.

Estherís discovery of a photo of an African dancer in Menachemís natural history photo collection sets off a family conflagration about idolatry. Even the childrenís books he can read are for religious education, and his didactic father turns Menachemís fascination with a doveís nest into a heavy Talmudic lesson. Though the boyís dream of a vacation at the beach by the Dead Sea comes true, it turns into a dramatic trip that sorely tests all the faith the family can muster.

While Giddi Darís Ushpizin was rare for its sympathetic portrayal of this completely observant community, Volach is not the first Israeli filmmaker to target the flaws in those whose inflexible and conservative politics have caused resentments among the rest of the population. Even with the irony of the rabbi being movingly portrayed by an actor who is the scion of one of Israelís most noted secular figures, Moshe Dayan, Volachís emotional criticisms are presented more sadly, through beautiful hand-held cinematography, than the viciousness of Amos Gitaiís Kadosh, and this family is more three-dimensionally human than the hypocrites in Eitan Gorlin's The Holy Land. From being raised in such a home before his rebellion as a young adult, Volachís familiarity with their daily life provides an unusually detailed portrait for outsiders. Nora Lee Mandel
May 16, 2008

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