My Father My Lord tells the story of a young boy living with his parents in Israel. The family are Haredim (the Hebrew word for ultra-Orthodox Jews), part of an insular community whose life revolves around Torah and tradition.
Young Menachem lives in his father's shadow, by his words and by his love. Rabbi Abraham Edelman is a respected rabbi, extremely pious, and he demands that his family follow suit. Menachem soaks up his father's attention, but maintains a quiet dissent in the face of such overwhelming paternal presence. He is a loving and inquisitive child. At school, Menachem admires a mother dove and her young living on a window sill. He learns a song about the story of Abraham and Isaac, and witnesses a neighbor in distress. When Menachem's father commands him to destroy a small photo, calling it idolatry, he argues theology.
Menahem's mother, Esther, is more of the here and now, and concerns herself with the family's emotional welfare. She worries about her husband's inflexibility, and does not share in his fervor of Personal Providence, or in his belief that God exists only for the righteous Jew. Esther encourages her son's interest in planning a holiday at the Dead Sea, a trip that will test the family's faith.
The movie portrays a family living in the shadow of a God it cannot fathom. Its depiction of the Haredic community is eye-opening, as Director David Volach finds unexpected proximities between light and dark, certainty and doubt. It shows people living in a closed community that, despite its singularities, is strangely familiar.
In MY FATHER MY LORD, I wanted to demonstrate the foundations of atheistic excitement which are with us from childhood – the natural curiosity through which we observe life, encountering
events as they are, without imposing meaning; how we experience emotions directly, unencumbered
by hierarchies and restriction this wonderful view of the world. Furthermore, I wanted to convey
that the perplexed quality of religious belief, and of all larger-than-life ideologies, leaves them clumsy and lacking in authenticity. I wished to cast doubt upon the emotional viability of anything that binds us via that unholy trinity of authority, discipline and meaning.
I was born into an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem. In our home, God was a demanding
activity that left no room for other areas of life. I was eleven when, encouraged by my sisters (mainly Pninah, who was in charge of performance and singing), I dared to direct a play which was based on a children's book about the deeds of pious Jews. And even though only girls were encouraged to take up creative pursuits, I was determined to direct The Poor Tailor. This attempt ended almost as soon as it began.
I had collected a good number of Purim costumes from a cardboard box we kept in the attic. Rehearsing at my friend Boimel's home-taking on, of course, the leading role-I sat murmuring
Psalms, a shoe in my hand and an old man's expression on my face. Boimel's mother pounced on
me immediately, railing against my diction: 'How are you going to put on a play No one will hear
you! Didn't your sister Pninah teach you anything' My faced burned from the insult. I had a husky voice even as a child, and now I felt more exposed and embarrassed than ever. I immediately canceled the play and gave up the dream, never to return to it. Long having carried in my heart the idea of playing the tailor with great intimacy, I could never have spoken loudly enough for everyone to hear. My despair was irreparable.
In my early teens, I harbored creative aspirations that I yearned to express through religion and worship. By my late teens, however, my long process of secularization began. Other creative endeavors-painting, writing and philosophy-began pulling at my heartstrings. At 25, I reached my final decision to leave religion and I emigrated to Tel Aviv in 1995 to study film.
INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR
What was it like growing up in such a big Orthodox family
Mine was a very sheltered experience because of my older brothers and sisters. Every year there was exceptional joy when a new baby was born into the family. Actually, this is the only pattern I have ever known. One of my childhood friends was an only child, and whenever we'd come home from school, his mother would be waiting for him on the porch, calling him inside to have lunch. I remember longing for such exclusivity, whereas he preferred coming to my house and joining in the raucous atmosphere that accompanied our meals; how each one of us had the freedom to prepare our own food, like cooking french fries. I think my friend and I were driven to eat at one another's home out of secret jealousy.
Is Menachem's experience your own
Basically, Menachem's experience and my own overlap in that I also took an interest in animals and in the 'Other.'
Your move away from the Haredic community of your childhood was a long process of secularization
It entailed losing a lot and fearing the future. Apart from the loss of faith and religious routine and the necessity of finding a different life focus, it required a social and cultural migration that was more difficult than simply becoming a secular Jew.
How does being brought up Haredic help or hinder you as artist
I think that accepting that it both helps and hinders me as an artist is a sign of true understanding. Even today, I am surprised to discover that the mental and emotional discomfort I feel within my innermost self don't merely stem from my personality, but are oftentimes yet another aspect of this long, distressful journey.
How did the film's story develop
The “story” developed in tandem with the ideas I wanted to express, both of which continued to influence each other as they progressed. Yet, perhaps my original motivation was to reconstruct the image of a family that had escaped me by the time I matured; that of a child, a mother and a father, and the consequences of this portrait.
Apart from being a cultural icon who is a filmmaker, screenwriter and actor in Israel, Assi Dayan is the son of an aristocratic, secular, Zionist Israeli family and of “the” military commander of the sixties, Moshe Dayan. I contemplated the amazing concept that someone so deeply rooted in the secular Israeli culture would now be playing his diametric opposite. For me, this fact alone was asign of our cultural maturity and crystallized my original intention: to give Rabbi Edelman his full credit and to refrain from judging him on a stereotypical, sociological basis, or as some pre- identified 'Other' rather, at the same time, to look uncompromisingly into the faith-filled, religious world of the character and its fate. I was glad to have my long-standing wish of working with Assi come true. I chose Sharon Hacohen to play the mother after I unexpectedly shed a tear during her audition.
Young Ilan Griff captured my heart after seeing 250 lovely boys, and I just yelled out, 'I've found him!' At the end, I was so overwhelmed by the emotional experiences I had undergone with the actors, although I find it hard to recall right now. These were very honest and close relationships.
What did you discover when editing the film
I discovered that there is no replacing thinking out the screenplay in advance, although this process sometimes gets disrupted by the burden of the actual filmmaking. However, at the end, when you see a complete internalization of the facts staring back at you from the screen, you must trade the truth conceived in the planning stages for this a new one, and surrender to it.
The final version
It comes very close to what I had imagined, excluding the parts we did not shoot.
You conceived of your film as a thematic dialogue with Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue I, framed as a variation on the story of Abraham and Isaac
In my mind, Kieslowski is the master of intimacy. Everything he chooses to tell comes out of his own intimate knowledge of the characters. Quite apart from the fact that plot is only a vehicle through which to develop one's characters, everything Kieslowski depicts happens by way of his characters' faces and expressions.