Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yael Perlov's introduction to TJFF's screening of her father's landmark film, In Jerusalem

Right: David Perlov (photo © Mira Perlov); Below: Daughter Yael in Perlov's Diary (1973-1983),

As part of a special programme exploring the city of Jerusalem before and after its reunification during the Six Day War, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival offered David Perlov’s 1963 landmark documentary,
In Jerusalem. On behalf of the Perlov family, daughter Yael offered the following introduction to her father’s film:

David Perlov, my father, had never made serious efforts to be shown abroad: he was not a man of festivals.

When he died five years ago, the Israeli cinema critics were unanimous to speak of him as "The most important Israeli Filmmaker". Nevertheless it was only two years later that his work began to be shown abroad when the Centre Pompidou organized a retrospective of his films. Since then Diary and In Jerusalem have been invited and shown all over at international film festivals and cinematheques in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Brazil Argentina, and more.

I would like, of course, to thank the public here, for coming and showing curiosity for a film director yet unknown in Canada.

Allow me to give briefly some milestones of Perlov's biography:

He was born in Brazil and began his artistic career as a painter. At the age of twenty he leaves for Paris, where after a short time of studies, he fell in love with cinema, worked as assistant of Henri Langlois at the Cinematheque Francaise and then collaborated with the documentarist Joris Ivens in the editing of a film on Marc Chagall.

In 1957, while still in Paris, he makes his first short film: Old Aunt China, which was supported by the British Film Institute.

He arrived in Israel in 1958. He began directing documentary films for the local authorities, yet throughout the 1960s he constantly clashed with the ideological demands of the Israeli establishment. As he himself said in an interview years later, "I wanted to make films about people, they wanted films on ideas".

In 1963 Perlov made In Jerusalem, which has become a turning point and a milestone in Israeli cinema. The film set a new, free style for documentary work in Israel.

A still from David Perlov's In Jerusalem

The structure of the film, in its 10 different episodes connected by a repeated image of a stonemason, presents the city in a poetic and fragmented way, which avoids the strong symbolic conception so often attached to Jerusalem.

As he himself said: "I filmed at street level. I have a tendency to shoot the below". He wanted to show the people living in Jerusalem as they are: on the one hand, the extreme severity of the orthodox who avoid the camera, and on the other, the warmth of those who want to participate willingly and openly in the scenes that are shot.

In the year 1963, in the official cultural atmosphere of the country, (it was the year that the Beatles were not allowed to perform in Israel because it was feared they might have a negative influence on the local youth), the film In Jerusalem created a shock: It was different, it had a strict formal conception and a lyrical rather then ideological approach.

The authorities that financed the project were determined, for example, to censor one of the sequences that bothered them most of all. It was the sequence showing beggars in the holy city, which was based on a legend stating that, before the coming of the herald Messiah, another Messiah would announce the great event and he himself would appear as a beggar. David then shows several of the beggars in the city. The Prime ministry, the Jewish agency and the national Film Service found this scene scandalous. “After all ", as David says in the interview, " the country was socialist and the producers protested: There are no beggars in Jerusalem. There are no barefoot [people] in the country.

To the establishment’s mind, people were brought to Israel and given clothes and shoes. So how could I go a around the city shooting the exceptions? “In short, they wanted me to forget the film and proposed that I make another one. "

Eventually the whole matter reached Levi Eshkol, then the Prime minister of Israel, for his judgment. He was a man [with a] sense of humor and he approved the film.

To read Uri Klein's interview with David Perlov about In Jerusalem, click here.
To visit the David Perlov website, click here.