Inventing Our Life
Directed by Toby Perl Freilich
A kibbutz, we learn from Inventing Our Life, is a Jewish settlement not unlike a commune. First founded in the early 20th century, the more than 250 kibbutzim that exist today in some respects comprise something of a microcosm of modern Israel, with issues of politics and social economics and an elusive idea of "home" permeating every discussion of them. Toby Freilich's documentary is a noble attempt to detail the history and uncertain future of the movement, but it lacks the emotion and insight to be relevant to anyone who isn't already familiar with the subject.
The film's weaknesses come as something of a surprise, since Freilich's personal experiences with the movement, including a sister who was a longtime member, suggest that he is ideally suited to direct this material. But things come off a bit thin over the course of the 80-minute runtime, with the necessary background information leaving room for only the most cursory character sketches or explorations of modern difficulties. There are no compelling characters among the talking heads, and never any sense that much is at stake.
Perhaps fiction would have been the more appropriate medium for this story, with the privileged access it can assume in someone's life. Watching it, you never understand what the day to day is like for living in a kibbutz, of the ways it can stifle or nurture aspects of civilization. The controversies related to the movement—with many Holocaust survivors distrustful of the "camp" parallels—come off more like personality squabbles rather than fundamental philosophical differences related to a daring kind of lifestyle. Inventing Our Life makes clear the potential of the subject and setting, but it is also apparent that the surface isn't even close to being scratched yet.
Opens April 25