In the Name of the Supporting Actors
By Anat Zuria | 27/05/2010
In "Summer Holiday," Wallach protests against the reign of the dominant father, and chooses as his focus the gaze of those who are absent from the mythical biblical story – the silence of Sarah and of Isaac. Anat Tzruya believes that Wallach's is a film on the victims of the monotheistic and patriarchal ideal of the father, and of God as father-figure
The film "Summer Holiday" by director David Wallach opens with a picture of a Jew crying bitterly. The man is elderly, and it is obvious that he is not experienced in expressing his feelings. His choppy and stilted crying ends suddenly when he straightens up, leaves his room, and enters a synagogue. There it becomes clear to the spectator that this pained Jew is an important person, who bears the title of Rabbi and Head of Yeshiva. What awaits the spectator wondering about his utterly heart-wrenching crying is a unique and surprising journey; "Summer Holiday," staged by formerly ultra-Orthodox Wallach, is one of the freest and most original variations of the Binding of Isaac story, a classic myth of patria potestas, ever seen on film.
At first glance, the film relates the simple and realistic story of a terrible disaster one summer day that befalls an ultra-Orthodox family. Unexpectedly, it is not a typical ultra-Orthodox family in that the parents are elderly, and have only one young child. Such a small family cell is exceptional in ultra-Orthodox reality, and one can readily imagine that its exceptionality is socially akin to that of a hunchback, particularly for the infertile woman. The family's austere routine is conducted according to the rules of the father, who is also a rabbi. In the case of this family, the father's rules are completely identified with the rules of God. The relationship within the small family triangle is clear, and the mother and son subordinate themselves in every way to the father's directives. However, the gentleness, deep concentration, and internal stillness of the father sweeten their situation and generate an illusion of complete acceptance of his reign, even when he sets boundaries and curbs the freedom of expression of mother and son.
Collision between Male and Female Culture
In "Summer Holiday," Wallach protests against the domination of the father, deconstructs elements from the story frame of the Binding of Isaac myth, and transfers them to the daily life of the family where, as everyone knows, the most dangerous decisions wait in ambush. The dramatic background of the Isaac myth obligates the director to place a beloved son in the movie, the son of the barren woman, a child whose very birth, after many years of frustration, is an inconceivable achievement; the very existence of a precious child, and the special redemptive value he bears, can express the intensity of the pain in Abraham's conflict, and the hidden conflict of Sarah. The collision between the two cultures, male and female, two foreign languages, comes to a head with the need to sacrifice the one and only son.
During the movie, the spectator finds himself following the relationship between the father, mother and son, and discovers in the sequence of the couple's simple activities the intensity of their longing for their only child. The family is characterized by an authoritarian and emotional father, a self-denying and internalizing mother, and a rebellious and reflective child. There is something moving in the humanity of this family, whose life proceeds in a kind of silence based on the live and delicate relationship that pulsates throughout the entire film, hovering over an unspoken void. The parents in the film experience infertility, and this experience, which takes place almost at the end of the plot, will cut through the family connection with a sharp suddenness. Only then does the depth of the gaping chasm between father and mother become apparent, as well as between the man and the woman, in their relationship with their child, with God, and ultimately, also with the social language and its symbols.
In telling the story of the family tragedy, Wallach chooses to give expression to the gaze of those who are absent from the mythical biblical story – the silence of Sarah and of Isaac, who were sacrificed to the monotheistic and patriarchal ideal of the father and the God as father-figure. The film opens with the failed attempt of the father, the faithful Jewish man, to mourn naturally and to cry with simplicity. But Wallach does not focus on describing the curious moment of the fall of the ruler and leader, yeshiva head and righteous man. He pans the camera to the myth's supporting actors, to the mother and her son. Both ostensibly receive absolute and loving orders from the father. The son is a curious and inquisitive child who indulges in expressing his individual yearning for nature. This is a special child, one who engages in a type of sincere and independent self-reflection. Here, Wallach relies on a groundbreaking cinematic tradition, in which the unmediated gaze of the child leads us to the weaknesses and distortions of the adult world. The child's attraction to nature is described as standing in contradiction to the father's values and rules. The conflict between father and son is indirect, and the child's longing for the natural and for nature takes on a destructive, unexpected dimension.
The mother, in contrast to her son, lives the routine of a religious woman who has few intimations of any kind of desire, and certainly no doubt or skepticism towards her rabbi husband, whose status as a tzaddik determines the lifestyle in her home. The mother's silence is portrayed in the film as a kind of obsession, and it is against this quiet, obsessive backdrop that Wallach, in his minimalist manner, plants a single clue foreshadowing the distress that will erupt later in the movie. In an intimate scene, in which the father courts his wife during the night, there is a first appearance of inexplicable guilt feelings on the part of the domineering father towards his wife. He addresses his silent partner, and asks her if she is angry at him. The question is left unanswered, and the question then becomes a kind of pistol that appears in the first act and fires in the second. There, in the moment of loss, which is the film's moment of truth, the mother's anger will erupt to the point of heresy.
Relevant Family Cell
The disappearance of the son, while following a fish along a stream, is placed ambiguously in the film – maybe an accident or possibly grave negligence on the part of the father, who preferred to pray in a minyan and attend to strict rules of modesty, rather than supervise his son, overlooking the Torah precept: "and you shall be very watchful of yourselves."
David Wallach has created a short, concentrated, cruel and silent story that slowly exposes the layers of the human tragedy in a culture controlled by male dominance. Wallach, a young artist, has an amazing ability to travel between the male and female gazes, between the adult and the child, and between the various cinematic traditions incorporated into the film. Thanks to his sensitivity, he succeeds in turning this sharp and fine work into subversive and independent film, and into an artistic achievement almost unparalleled in Israeli cinema. A young and unknown artist, of all people, formerly ultra-Orthodox and an autodidact, had succeeded in creating an independent cinematic creation that quotes not only from cinematographic tradition, but also thoroughly addresses the Jewish myth that occupies the foundation of the world of images in Western society.
It is important to note that this liberated work has additional important partners, including talented cinematographer Boaz Yaakov, whose expressive shoots have a hypnotizing influence on the spectator's processes of introspection, and editor Haim Tabakman, whose restrained and precise editing adds rhythm to the silences. And finally, behind the scenes is producer Eyal Shirai, who supported an exceptional screenplay and an unknown artist, who emerged from his separatist tribe, and created, ironically, the inverse of the inverse, an image of nuclear family highly relevant to Israeli society.
Anat Zuria is a filmmaker