Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Joseph Cedar's Universe of Meaning

One of the reasons I enjoy Joseph Cedar’s films so much is how delicately he weaves the larger themes of Israeli society with the real life concerns of his characters.   

He achieves this less so in his first film, A Time of Favor, about a group of zealous religious Zionists who attempt to blow up the Muslim buildings on the Temple Mount.  But in the character of the rabbi’s daughter, we can see what Cedar will eventually do with characterization; how he will meld larger concerns of a culture and a society with an individual’s pursuit of meaning, love and integrity.

In Campfire  this vision is fully fleshed out.  The widowed mother and two daughters both struggle against Israeli culture’s conception of what they should do and be in their situation, as well as the daily onslaught of misogynist behavior, which eventually ends in a sexual assault.  Through the film the four main characters want nothing else but to love and belong.  That they are stymied in this only increases their capacity to love and give love.  In a world that wants to make them one-dimensional and serve the sexual and religious/ideological needs of others, they insist on being three dimensional people.

Beaufort takes place in an army base in southern Lebanon.  The soldiers wait for the order to abandon and then blow up the outpost, which is supposed to come any day.  No one wants to be the last man to die before the pull out, and the story focuses on the boredom and terror of life in a constant war zone.  Again, the themes of humanity and its struggle for meaning surface. How much do we owe society, and how much do we owe ourselves?  What is the place of duty in human life, and what is the place of love?  And do they always correspond?

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