1948 War. Lolek, a young Holocaust survivor arrives in Israel and thrown in the middle of the desert. A stranger to the language and the new identity he is given, he is assigned in an isolated post under a brutal commander and the burning sun. Afflicted by homesickness and the heat, he sets out to look for some shade.
Written and Directed by: Dani Rosenberg
Director Dani Rosenberg’s movie, “Beit Avi” — literally, “My Father’s House”; known in English as “Homeland” — is a 40-minute drama about a young Holocaust
refugee who comes to Israel in 1948. It premiered at the Jerusalem International Film Festival last year. Since then, it has been screened at almost a dozen festivals round the world and has garnered strong reviews for the daring questions it raises, which strike at the core of Israel’s identity.
In the film, the refugee, Lolek (Itay Tiran), comes to Israel, hoping to find his sweetheart in Haifa. Instead, he is immediately conscripted into the army. Few people know about this chapter of Israel’s history, when the refugees of the Holocaust were forced to serve in the Israeli military, despite the fact that they knew no Hebrew and understood little about the conflict with the Arabs. In an interview with the Forward, Rosenberg said he aimed to do more than just tell about this controversial practice.
“I also wanted to show how Israel in general denigrated everything that the Holocaust survivors represented, and how important it is for us to learn their history in order to understand who we are today,” Rosenberg said. “That’s why I felt the film had to be in Yiddish. By Yiddish, I don’t just mean the language, but also the culture which the Israeli government and society tried to erase.”
For the entire review by Rukhl Schaechter/The Jewish Forward, April, 2009,
The opening of Dani Rosenberg's new film "Homeland" is somewhat reminiscent of Herbert Klein's 1947 film "My Father's House" – a jeep loaded with new immigrants from Europe on the roads of Israel, thru the desert, taking them to their new future. But that is about all those two films have in common. Klein's film is a pretty standard Zionist party line ….[in this film] in the middle in the desert, with nothing around – and certainly not Haifa which is where the character wants to go – he has no choice but to go up the hill to the outpost.
It is here that he meets his commarade and commander, who was once a pale survivor like himself, and is now a tanned "Sabra"- muscular, mustached and armed. He says to the new arrival "soon we will not even be able to tell where you came from". And this is the point from which our hero begins his journey to become an Israeli.
From brand new to well-worn, from wide-eyed to well versed, from fleeing to being an authority. ..In this country is it even possible to remember from where you came?
This is a political film about power, the military, occupation and victimhood. And all of this is happening with a war that is out of view, and there is no shelter from the blaring sun - or the facts on the ground.
This is a protest film about erasing the past; roots, culture and memory. One could say this is also a personal film about private loss and belonging. It is a film about longing and changes and memory – personal memory and not collective memory, just what is etched in your own remembrances.
This might sound dense, but these are just some thoughts about a complex screenplay that raises many issues while not making the viewing experience too crowded. The film flows, fascinating and gripping and is helped greatly by excellent acting (especially by Itai Tiran), beautiful cinematography and precise editing.
Itay Tiran is an old Yiddish actor in the wild-west of Israel. Romi Mikolinski saw Dani Rosenberg’s new film “Homeland” and was impressed.
“Homeland”, Dani Rosenberg’s short Yiddish language film deals with a painful topic – the inscription of refugees fleeing Europe at the end of World War II into the Israeli military. Even now it is not clear how many were forcibly conscripted into the Zionist state’s army without knowing a word of Hebrew, who was fighting whom and where they were located. Rosenberg’s character Lolek portrays with his body, with his broken Hebrew and above all with his paleness the utter confusion that those refugees experienced the authenticity of the war in Europe much more than the conflict in Palestine. Rosenberg stubbornly insists on bringing up issues that were all but forgotten in the construction of a new ethos for a fighting nation. Issues that are uncomfortable now just as they were in the past. It is easier to deny things. First and foremost “Homeland” is about the forced inscription – but the film also forces the audience to confront the issue of abandoned Arab villages and the issue of Palestinian refugees. Suffering belongs to all the film seems to suggest – to the long-time residents of the land (Jews and Arabs alike) and to those newcomers as well.
“Homeland” is a short film of less than 40 minutes and it is hard to compare it to other films. The experience of watching the film is unusual and not only because most of the film is in Yiddish. It is an intense viewing experience. It sometimes feels like the use of the language is not only authentic – but also underscores Lolek’s isolation and loneliness. Most of the film takes place in a remote out-post over looking the dessert where Lolek meets Mintz (Mikki Leon) – who, like Lolek is a Holocaust survivor with a number on his arm, who terrorizes his stunned charge. The contrast between the two is marked and is first and foremost indicated by their physical differences. Unlike Mintz who has already shed all the trapping of his Diaspora self only to become the poster-boy for the new Israeli – Lolek’s inadequate body is a stumbling block on his way to becoming a “Sabra”. The homo- erotic tension between the two men and the master-slave relationship they conduct only increases as the weaker Lolek refuses to go along with Mintz’s demands –and by extension those of the whole Yishuv (pre-State community) – refuses to loose his previous identity, to grow stronger. “A few more days in the sun and no one will be able to tell where you are from” Mintz goads him on and encourages him to develop muscles and a tan. “You have more work” he demands in his dictatorial way.
Rosenberg adeptly captures the fearful atmosphere of that mad time, even as his cinematic language tends to be somewhat simplistic at times. His use of symbols and foreshadowing, like the use of certain camera movements, is meant to convey the fear of the characters, their unstable nature – though these are too simplistic and obvious especially paired with the amazing natural landscape which is at once claustrophobic and open. The power of the film derives from the excellent performances of the two main actors. Tiran not only transforms into Lolek, but also is able to become before our very eyes into an ageless immigrant: at once an old Yiddish comic with terrific facial expressions. Leon gives a precise performance which conveys a man on the brink of collapse. He is powerful yet vulnerable, torn between two countries and experiencing the War for Israeli Independence as if it was the Wild West. The tan and muscular Mintz is perhaps the personification of the Zionist pioneers, but he is also the proof of the price one has to pay to erase a previous identity. “Homeland” offers a brave and unique interpretation not only of the pre-State settlement, but also of what is involved in the building of an ethos upon we were all raised. Rosenberg does not hesitate to criticize those notions and to show what has been lost along the way. He does so with the choice of Yiddish, or by exposing the abandoned Arab villages. By creating a connection between two abandoned cultures that of the Palestinians and that of the Eastern European Jews.
Romi Mikolinski, www.walla.co.il, September 9th, 2008
www.seret.co.il, Reviewed by Alon Rosenberg, August, 2008
Veteran Israeli actor Itay Tiran is starring in a new movie opening this week at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, in the language of his grandparents, Yiddish.
"Beit Avi", or "Homeland", tells the tale of two refugees from the Holocaust who find themselves posted on a remote desert hilltop during Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
Filmmaker Dani Rosenberg wrote the movie in Hebrew, and then made the unusual decision to have the dialogue spoken in Yiddish, a feat that required he and Tiran spend months studying the language. For the filmmakers, filming in Yiddish gave the movie an air of realism they say it would've lacked otherwise.
The movie's Yiddish dialogue and treatment of the time passed the test of a serious critic, Rosenberg's grandmother.
www.haaretz.com; August 21, 2008
Two European Jews - Holocaust refugees swiftly transformed into Israeli soldiers - are roasting in the sun on a remote desert hill at the height of the 1948 War of Independence. They can only communicate with each other in Yiddish, and it seems as if they are the only two people left in the world. The Nazis remain in Europe and in their nightmares, the Palestinians have already been driven out of nearby villages, and even the war in which they are participating is only a faint echo on the army transmitter. It is at the heart of this ahistorical moment that Dani Rosenberg's unusual new film "Beit avi" ("Homeland") is planted. Starring Miki Leon and Itay Tiran, it opens next week at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
The two heroes, Mintz and Lolek, are opposites. Mintz (Leon), tanned and muscular, sporting a mustache, denies his European past and reinvents himself as a Hebrew-speaking Israeli soldier. Lolek (Tiran), bony and pale, is dragged into the war by mistake while searching for his European sweetheart, Nina, who is awaiting him in Haifa. Lolek becomes Mintz's subordinate on the hill, and a sadistic, even erotic power relationship develops between them. The plot's development gradually subverts the shallow contrast between the Diaspora Jew and the new Zionist Jew.
"It all begins with getting sunburned," says Rosenberg, born in Tel Aviv in 1979, in a joint interview with Tiran and Leon, describing the experience that prompted him to make the movie. "I never could get a suntan. The basic experience of those who burn versus all the tanned boys is one that sets you apart. On the army base, those who burn cannot be part of beautiful Israel - they can't be the poster boys of Zionism. Even if today some of the images that attract interest are of pale men, the basic desire to adopt the image of the Canaanite remains unchanged."
Rosenberg's inspiration for the movie came from a photograph of his grandfather, taken in 1948. "You see three soldiers standing beside a hill near an abandoned Arab house, wearing tattered uniforms and peering fearfully at the camera," he says. "On the other side there is a goat; on the roof stands a soldier, holding a rooster and smiling. I remember my grandfather's look, the disconnect and the contrast between the war ethos and the frightened look in his eyes."
"For someone who lived in Poland, coming to the desert is just about the same as landing on the moon," Tiran, best known for his role as Hamlet at the Cameri theater, explains. "It's something that, if you've never seen it before, you just can't imagine. Lolek asks Mintz what Arabs look like: Every person in the audience knows what Arabs look like, but for Lolek, he has landed on another planet. It's a world of ghosts."
The decision to have the heroes speak Yiddish required considerable effort on the part of all three. Rosenberg wrote the screenplay in Hebrew, studied Yiddish and translated the dialogue with the help of teachers, led by Yiddish translator Moshe Sacher.
Leon and Tiran studied for months so they could converse in authentic Lodzian Yiddish. "It was important to me to write in Lodzian Yiddish," Rosenberg says, "because the Yiddish spoken today is the more literary sort, and the Lodzian Yiddish spoken by millions in Eastern Europe is quickly dying out. It is a way of preserving the language, which is also juicier because it was spoken.
"The movie is about a struggle between several cultures," he continues. "It is about the erasure of Ashkenazi Judaism, so the decision to speak Yiddish is a significant one."
This is probably one of the only feature films made in Yiddish since World War II. Rosenberg was surprised to hear many people in the audience laugh at the Yiddish that the two heroes speak in the opening scenes, which are not comic: "It's interesting that people laugh at first," he says. "They think that if Itay Tiran and Miki Leon are speaking Yiddish, I must be laughing at something. Yiddish has become Hebrew's 'sidekick.'"
Haaretz Daily Newspaper, By Yotam Feldman, August, 2008
Dani Rosenberg's film staring Itay Tiran as a Yiddish speaking Holocaust survivor is unlike any other Israeli film. It presents a Father Land that has no room for mothers.
There are very few films made in Yiddish these days. It seems useless to create dialogue in a language that has supposedly passed from this world…But I doubt that the limited audience possibilities are what motivated Dani Rosenberg to create one of the few Yiddish speaking films produced since World War II. Before the screening one could surmise that the use of Yiddish is a mere gimmick – but the film itself dispels any question marks and proves that it should only – and could only be made in Yiddish.
After all this is the story of Lolek (played by a pale Itay Tiran), a new immigrant who we first meet in total darkness as he is humming a tune whose refrain will become significant later on. The strong sun, which irritates the characters as well as the audience throughout the film, suddenly shines on what we see is the back of a vehicle. Lolek, it seems has been chosen to get off in the midst of a dessert no-where.
From there he makes his way to a remote and hot out-post whose commander is a tan and tough "Sabra" (Mikki Leon). As the two embark on a game of commander and private – a game whose outcome is unknown- the Sabra, the native Israeli is seen to be a Yiddish speaker with a number on his arm. While our friend the polite foreigner is learning how to become "blue and white" in the most militaristic way. He actually had only wanted to get to Haifa to meet the girl he loves, and maybe even a bit of shade.
The story of the film takes place in 1948 and was made as part of the director's final project at the Sam Spiegel Film School in 2006.
The most amazing part of this production is the Yiddish coming out of the actors' mouths. Tiran and Leon learned the language thoroughly over a period of two months…
The film has more to sell than just the wonderful performances by these two fine actors. By placing the story in the period of the War of Independence, it is possible to bring criticism of the military which is often blunt and blind, or to condemn the utter destruction that took place in order to build a new society for immigrants.
The whole thing of course has repercussions for our times. The name of the film is planted in a line that Leon says as he welcomes Tiran to the "land of our fathers" – which begs the question: what about the mothers? It seems that they, along with all emotions that show up here, will continue in the only role that war time will allow.
The 40 minute Homeland will be presented at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Don't worry about the length of the film – or shortness of it. It is time to give Israeli short films a chance so that those who created them will also be able, in the future, to give us their longer works which at this stage are still in developments.
www.mouse.co.il/ by Oron Shamir, August 20, 2008
Dani Rosenberg's "Homeland", which straddles the two worlds of the old Diaspora Jew and the new Israeli Sabra, is yet another example of a short and successful drama that gets lost on its way to a wider audience
Homeland, the short (40 minutes) and excellent new film by Dani Rosenberg is showing sporadically at a few cinemas right now. A few weeks ago the talented Nadav Lapid's 50 minute film "Emile's Girlfriend" was also shown at a few cinematheques around the country. That film won much praise in France where it was also shown commercially.
This is the sad story of Israeli short films – as praiseworthy as they might be- the films just fall between the cracks. On the one hand the length of the films seems ill-suited to a theatrical screening. On the other hand, as these two fine films will attest, their quality often exceeds that of full length feature films produced here.
Shmulik Duvdevani, Ynet, September 1st, 2008
Two new and unusual Israeli films portray the process that the Israeli soldier has undergone from victim to murderer
"Homeland" is a good example of this. Through the story of two Jewish Holocaust survivors, who roast out in the hot dessert sun as the War of Independence rages, Rosenberg tackles issues such as the artificial construct of the "Sabra", and the connection between Jewish and Arab refugees. …One of the characters (Itay Tiran) is a most recent immigrant who is actually trying to get to Haifa to find his girlfriend, and finds himself on a lonely hilltop in the middle of the dessert. The other (Mikki Leon) is waiting for him on that hilltop and has already become the Sabra. He is mustached, tan and muscular – yet underneath that he is hiding the Diaspora Jew that Zionism tried to exorcise. This surrealistic situation, which recalls Rafi Bukai's film "Avanti Popolo", becomes even more strange and encumbered by the fact that all the dialogue is in Yiddish.
The somewhat erotic, sadomasochistic relationship between the two- the pale weak Diaspora Jew and the tanned macho commander, express a concrete question about the ways in which, the Jew is attracted, in an almost Fascistic way, to power. The "discovery" of an abandoned Palestinian village by the character portrayed by Itay Tiran, who stumbles upon the body of a local boy, supplies the film with one of its most powerful moments and expresses the Holocaust survivor's attraction to death.
The element of violence that the new immigrant identifies with on his way to becoming a "new Jew" leads to a surrealistic departure scene in which the character says good bye to the old Diaspora world. All of a sudden, the timeless discussion of Jewish victimhood is seen in a different light. This is an issue that has been already presented by new historiography of Zionism, but not yet by the contemporary cinema. …
The History of Violence, Yair Raveh, Ynet, September 3rd, 2008