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Of hardship, valour and resilience
An Israeli Love Story is a moving film based on the true story of Pnina Gary and Eli Ben-Zvi from the period of 1942-1948. By Ankita Jain
An Israeli Love Story, starring Israeli actors Adi Bielski and Aviv Alush, is set in 1947. It tells the story of 18-year-old aspiring actress Margalit, who lives in northern Israel. She falls in love with Eli Ben Zvi from Kibbutz Beit Keshet. On the day they were supposed to get married, tragedy strikes. The film is adapted from a play written by Pnina Gary. The storyline is based on the real-life incident of Gary (now 89), who was supposed to marry Eli, the son of Rachel Yanait and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (later to be the second president of Israel). In 1948, during Israel’s war for independence, her would-be husband was killed in an Arab ambush.
“Gary was looking for a producer to make this film. She approached me because she thought I am a specialist in making low-budget films. I read the story and was touched by it. The film talks about the period of 1947 when Arabs and Jews were fighting over the land of Palestine. I tried to make a balanced film. It is told from the point of view of an Israeli woman, who had a tragic story to tell,” says Dan Wolman, director of the film.
He is a veteran Israeli filmmaker whose films has been presented at Cannes, Venice, Berlin and many other film festivals winning awards and prizes the world over. His films cover a big range from the very commercial youth comedy Lemon Popsicle to the very personal The Distance and Foreign Sister both of which won the Volgin Award for “Best film” at the Jerusalem International Film Festival.
When asked how challenging was it to adapt a screenplay from a play and make a feature film out of it, Dan says, “The real challenge was to bring this period film alive and also to match up with the real story. Eighty-four-year-old Israeli actress and playwright Pnina Gary waited 60 years to write An Israeli Love Story, a 70-minute monodrama about coming of age in pre-state Israel. Her personal story of unrequited adolescent love — gained and then lost again. After spending decades in the theatre as an actress and artistic director, adapting others’ work to the stage, this was Gary’s first foray into creating her own work for the stage.”
He further adds about what inspired Garry to write her own story after 60 years. “Inspired by her grandson’s sixth grade Roots project, An Israeli Love Story evokes the nostalgia and values of pre-state Israel. She told him about her adolescent years in Nahalal, the moshav in the Jezreel Valley where she was born and raised. Afterwards, her grandson’s essay was read out in class and his classmates didn’t believe that was how life had really been. The disparity between the values on which Gary was raised on the moshav and those of her grandson’s city friends was so vast that she decided it was important to tell them more about what happened here in the beginning. For them, even the War of Independence is distant Jewish history.”
Dan says that until the end, which is heartbreaking, it is a very joyful story. It has a lot of humour and a lot of funny characters.
It focuses on first love, and for older audience members, it brings back memories of the ‘40s, while for younger theatre goers, it’s the love story that catches them.” An Israeli love story tells the story of how Margalit met and fell in love with a young fighter of the Palmach (the unofficial army of the Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel), and how he died a day before they were to be married.
While the film is an adolescent love story that anyone can relate to, the backdrop of the play is the battle of Israeli immigrants idealistically fighting to establish the state of Israel in 1948. And how the thousand people who were invited for the wedding came to a funeral, and the food that was prepared for the wedding was served at the funeral.”
He adds, “The struggle of the pre-state period from 1942-1948 is truly depicted throughout the play. Because Margalit’s family lived on a moshav (an Israeli town or settlement) in the Nahalal Village, they were granted private property and belongings. On the other hand, Ami, from Kibbutz Beit Keshet was granted no private property or possessions. During this time almost everything had to be shared. Couples had to share their money, beds, and clothing with others. It was a time where blankets and shirts were scarce, and a radio was considered a rare treasure.”
The desire to expose youngsters to the atmosphere and values of pre-state Israel was the attraction for the director, to bring the play to the first Habitat Film Festival. “Since the film focuses on Israeli history, society, culture, and politics, I thought it would be interesting for youngsters to learn about the early days and values of the state.”
The director, who made films such as The Dreamer and Floch, said that in the last 15 years there’s been a tremendous progress in Israeli cinema. He also says that Israel has nearly 18 film schools, thus increasing the competition among filmmakers.
“Imagine a country, with eight million population, has approximately 18 film schools? Every year 100-150 women and men come out of these schools. They are writing screenplays and making films. So, there’s a lot of competition too,” explains Dan.
The moving story truly shows the struggles during the early stages of the state of Israel, and the suffering that many had to undergo so that Israel and its people could enjoy its independence today.
Performed with feeling, passion, and magic, Bielski was able to bring Pnina and Eli’s story to life, making the audience feel as if they were actually re-living the formative years of Israel, and bearing witness to its creation.
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