- On Pick-Hemo's Wounded Homeland: The Changing Representation of Trauma in Israeli Cinema
In Wounded Homeland : The Changing Representation of Trauma in Israeli Cinema, Michal Pick-Hemo has set out to explore how Israeli cinema has reflected the relationship between the post-traumatic experiences of individuals and the prevailing psycho-ideological cultural conditions that have defined different periods in Israeli history. In doing so Pick-Hemo has made a valuable contribution to the study of Israeli films.
Wounded Homeland is divided into two parts. The first is a historical overview of the history of Israeli cinema. Pick-Hemo follows the film scholars' rather accepted periodization of the history of Israeli cinema into the early period of heroic films; the emergence of the personal cinema and the commercial-minded ethnic and class comedies; and the rise of political cinema in the late 1970s and 1980s. By focusing on a select number of films, Pick-Hemo underlines the important place of trauma, both collective and personal, on the Israeli screen. The second, and much more condensed part, deals with the Israeli films that won the Ophir Prize (the Israeli Oscars) between 2000 and 2006, a group Pick-Hemo identifies as dissociative cinema, wherein the individual as victim takes center stage while being disassociated from the broader social and political context. [End Page 120]
Throughout her analysis Pick-Hemo explores the relationship between certain developments in Israeli cinema (like the transition from national heroic movies to personal films) against what she describes as the prevailing psycho-ideological conditions of the time. Since, as Pick-Hemo shows throughout the book, Israeli films are ultimately rooted in and engage with ha-matzav ("the situation," in Hebrew; a term that denotes the Israeli preoccupation with current events), this approach is theoretically and historically justified; it also transforms Wounded Homeland into a broader argument about Israeli culture.
To my mind the most successful aspect of the book's first part is the manner by which Pick-Hemo challenges the inclination of some film scholars, most notably Ella Shohat, to offer a one-dimensional (positing a simple binary opposition as the basis of most Israeli films) account of Israeli films. Pick-Hemo's exploration of the role of trauma in shaping Israeli films reveals a kind of emotional as well as thematic complexity that transcends simple ideological oppositions (namely the silencing of the Oriental other). Pick-Hemo's discussion of films such as They Were Ten (Baruch Dienar, Israel, 1961), He Walked through the Fields (Yosef Millo, Israel, 1967), Siege (Gilberto Tofano, Israel, 1969), Paratroopers (Masa Alunkot, Judd Ne'eman, Israel, 1977), where the role of trauma is rather evident, offers new avenues for critical appreciation of these works. In other cases, as in her analysis of Sallah Shabati (Ephraim Kishon, Israel, 1964) and later ethnic comedies, her emphasis on the centrality of trauma (and the ability to negotiate trauma) is somewhat less convincing.
Wounded Homeland's second part achieves two things: It offers a thoughtful discussion of the Israeli condition at the beginning of the twenty-first century and provides a careful analysis of the films that have defined this era. (Her decision to focus on the Ophir-winners is very useful—these films garnered both critical and commercial success, which helps overcome the fact that these are recent movies that are dificult to assess historically.) Pick-Hemo is able, rather convincingly, to show how the current state of fear in Israel, fueled by terrorism and the lack of economic security, is different than that of earlier periods in Israeli history. (Israel has never experienced long periods of peace and prosperity.) The difference, she postulates, lies in the dissolution of the type of social and ideological bonds that offered Israeli society both a sense of shared destiny and a belief that it could overcome the monumental challenges that it faced.
The far more individualistic and fragmented Israel of the current century (it could be useful here to mention historian Daniel Gutwein's description of [End Page 121] contemporary Israel...