Stories that open windows and hearts

01.07.2013

Two new films—at once highly personal and intensely political—are on my mind today as I think about a definition of storytelling I heard this past week at a conference hosted by DC-based Docs in Progress: the opening of a window onto a world we don’t know.

The first, “Fill the Void,” has been called a Haredi “Pride and Prejudice,” since the plot revolves around marriage and a daughter’s familial duties. Although the setting is Tel Aviv, we barely see the city. The action takes place almost entirely within the tight mittel-Europa confines of a family home where relationships, behavior and emotions are governed by centuries-old Hasidic tradition. Reader, she marries him, but the final scene hints at the ambivalence she (and we) still feels before it cuts to black. A delicate and respectful portrait of unfamiliar world, it opened a window but remained an airless spectacle. For all its cinematic beauty, I just couldn’t accompany the heroine on her leap of faith.

On the other hand, “The Attack” broke my heart. The story of an assimilated Palestinian surgeon whose life is upended after he learns that his wife was the perpetrator and not a victim of a suicide attack, it is a love story without a happy ending, a crisis without resolution and a conflict without end. Here, Tel Aviv stands as a glittering rebuke to the crowded and bombed-out neighborhoods of the occupied territories where the good doctor must return to discover what happened and why. The plot may be ripped from the headlines, but its rare moments of heroism and truth will forever change the way you look at what you think you know.

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