Forgiveness (Mehilot): Udi Aloni’s Ambitious, Flawed Israeli Film

Udi Aloni’s ambitious Israeli film “Forgiveness” (“Mehilot” in Hebrew), tells the story of David Adler, a 20-year old American-Israeli who decides to move back to Israel, only to find himself committed to a mental institution, located on the ruins of the notorious Palestinian village, Deir Yassin.

Some historical context is in order. On April 9, 1948, a Jewish militia entered the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and killed over 100 villagers. Soon after, a mental hospital was built on the ruins. The first patients to be committed were Holocaust survivors. According to mythic legends, the survivors have been communicating with the ghosts of the village.

In the film, flashbacks reveal the events that led up to David’s hospitalization. For example, in one haunting sequence, a 10-year old female ghost holds the secret to the riddle. Only when the secret is revealed, she would find rest and give David the option to end a destiny.

In an attempt to build a bridge over the trauma zone and allow David to live a normal life.  Doctor Itzhik Shemesh, a psychiatrist at the mental institute, injects David with a chemo-technological drug. Even though he doubts its ethical consequences, his use of the drug is an act that mirrors his very own denial.

Doctor Shemesh is given permission to use the drug by David’s father, Henry Adler, a Holocaust survivor who spent a short time in Israel before becoming one of the most preeminent musicians in the U.S.

A blind patient in the hospital named Muselmann, also a Holocaust survivor, tells David to listen to the ghosts that are haunting him, because they have something important to tell him.

Like the blind prophet Tiresias, Muselmann knows that the truth does not necessarily hold peace of mind and redemption. Which is why he has never tried to reconstruct his life after the camps.  Existing between the worlds of the dead and the living, Muselmann acts as a conduit between the murdered ghosts and David.

Henry, who comes across as arrogant, firmly believes in faith as a rational mode of overcoming of trauma via action, doesn’t understand why his son has been hospitalized.  His lust for life and desire for normalcy make him live in denial of the past, which is unbearable for David, a youngster whose restless soul always seeks the truth, painful as it might be.

Interweaving flashbacks and flash-forwards from the mental institute in an unclear, often messy ways, the “Forgiveness” presents the story of David, as well as that of the inevitable return of a trauma and destiny that are deemed by history as unalterable.

While the subject is nothing less than riveting, and the honorable intention of the filmmakers is not in doubt, the narrative strategy they have chosen and the technical execution leave much to be desired.