- For My Children
September 2000: In the kitchen of Michal Aviad's Tel Aviv apartment, her Italian-Israeli mother stands over the stove, stirring a homemade ragu. Speaking from behind the camera, Aviad lists the chopped onions, carrots, and celery that go into the special family sauce. The sound of gunfire soon intrudes into this domestic scene as Aviad's husband, Shimshon Wigoder, watches the evening news on their living-room television. Crossfire in the West Bank has killed both Palestinians and IDF soldiers. "It's like a nightmare happening before our eyes," Shimshon despairs. "How are we supposed to live here?"
Set primarily in Tel Aviv, For My Children (Hebrew with English subtitles) is a personal and political narrative woven out of a sequence of casual home videos, scenes of domestic life, intimate conversations between husband and wife, and discursive memories by first-generation relatives. This visual composition contextualizes one family's perception of and coping with the eruption of the second Intifada. The events on television and the small date imprinted on the home videos reveal that the greater part of the film, released in 2002, was filmed in the fall of 2000. As we consider it four years later, we realize the significance and poignancy of this time gap: The film continues to describe the contemporary situation. It is thus simultaneously a historical documentary and a still-pertinent study of fear and normalization. As Aviad's husband Shimshon watches news of violence in the West Bank, as the couple debates with their parents the ramifications of Zionism and the civilian occupation, and as their smiling daughter practices ballet steps in the kitchen, they deal with both unthinkable and everyday dilemmas of life in Israel.
The story effectively integrates a range of footage, blending contemporary scenes with earlier ones from Aviad's own family video anthology and with a [End Page 266] notable archival collection. In one pairing of current and historical excerpts, Aviad flips from a vintage 1947 Israeli propaganda film of young halutzim erecting fences in a kibbutz to a scene of descendents of these early Zionists, Aviad's own family, watching the destructive conflict over the same land in a television report on the Intifada. While such assemblages are skillfully used to provide both historical explanation and political paradox, the film clips can also lead to confusion. It is often unclear whose experience a historical image is describing or how different family members are related. Still, the ironic juxtapositions are apt for a film about the volatility of Israeli life. "There's a constant fear that nothing is permanent, that things can change very quickly," Shimshon tells us of the family's present lives, but his musing exemplifies and elucidates a larger historical picture.
Framed as a study of contemporary uncertainty and anxiety, Aviad's work gains strength not from depictions of contemporary Israeli life, but from juxtapositions of current fears with the historical events and tensions that brought her and her husband's parents to Israel. In her living room, grandparents recount their journeys to Israel from Europe. Aviad's mother recalls the 1938 Race Laws in Italy and describes witnessing Mussolini's rise to power; another relative recounts Hitler's rise to power as he experienced it in Budapest in 1933. Shimshon's mother describes how the Holocaust drove her to convert to Judaism and to move with her husband, historian and philosopher Geoffrey Wigoder, to Israel in 1949. Highlighted with clips of World War II footage, the stories we hear are simultaneously gentle family lore and depictions of a terrible reality. Aviad presents her parents' escape from European persecution and continuously points to the irony, given the current political climate, of their experience of Israel as a self-chosen homeland.
In each narrative of persecution, for each generation, fear drives the family to flee and resettle. Each relative's story climaxes with the question, "When is it time to go?" In a central paradox of the film, Aviad and her husband transfer this familial mantra of escape to the present as they deliberate whether...