Israel: A Home Movie
Directed by Eliav Lilti
History unfolds in two great streams: a major one, written by the victors and concerned with the wheelings and dealings of governments, and a micro one, lived day-to-day by people so far from the action they may not even be swept up in the major course of things. Israel: A Home Movie, a documentary directed by Eliav Lilti, is fixated on that second stream, comprised entirely of home videos that document the country’s evolution from its pre-statehood period into a functioning society beset with instabilities. In theory, this is an inspired style, a necessary corrective to the historical films that recite the fluctuations of macroeconomic stats but pay no attention to the masses impacted by them. But in practice here it's too vague and shapeless, offering so many “forgotten” people that none come into focus.
A Home Movie covers the tumultuous period from the 1930s to the 1970s and is for much of that span hamstrung by its format. The surviving footage from the early years is uncompelling and generic, as much stock footage as home videos, and there’s little context for the massive changes going on outside the videos of children playing. WWII—WWII! The massive fact of Israel’s founding!—is passed over without much comment within the first few minutes. (Although there’s more discussion as the extent of the Holocaust become known in the 60s, a fact the film would have been wise to explore deeper.) The subsequent proliferation of home movie cameras, to say nothing of more survivors from later decades, allows for a fuller picture to develop, but while there’s a basic interest in seeing cities expand and function, the film never attaches any larger meaning to the home videos.
The people in the videos narrate the film by the dozen, but none emerge as distinct individuals. Perhaps focusing on a single family, and cutting to the members in the present day, would have given the film the characters and story throughline it so needs. As it happens, Israel: A Home Movie is coming out at the same time as a new edition of Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s utterly shattering exploration of the Holocaust. That's another film that looks at the day-to-day of history, but comparing A Home Movie to it, in both insight and depth, make this movie seem utterly thin.
Opens July 10 at Film Forum