Death of a Poetess (2017) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018
Dir.: Efrat Mishori, Dana Goldberg; Cast: Smira Saraya, Evgenia Dodina, Y. Goldberg; Israel 2018, 77 min.
Poet Efrat Mishori and filmmaker Dana Goldberg’s DEATH OF A POETESS is a hauntingly realistic but depressing portrait of their vision of Israel today. On Tel Aviv’s fabulous beachside two women meet. One has planned her own suicide, the other one will soon be the victim of a prejudiced police force, who take a dim view of the local Arab population. The bottom line is that this could be any European capital.
Lenny Sadeh (Dodina) is in her fifties and may have lost a daughter. She is adamant about ending her life. She has written some poetry, for the first time in her life, and gives the titular manuscript to a publisher. She then orders a white bathrobe, and makes sure it is in the shop on the chosen day: “There’s no tomorrow” she tells the assistant, who urges her to reflect on her decision. She then takes a taxi to the beach, where she meets Yasmin (Saraya), a young Arab nurse, who happens to be a lesbian, taking a night off from her elderly husband and young daughter. The women talk. Sensing that something is wrong, the nurse follows her into the bathroom, where Lenny has left her ring and other valuables. Yasmin than walks outside, and sees Sadeh heading for the water.
The title is the film’s intended spoiler. The interactions of Lenny’s last day are intercut with a diabolic police interrogation of Yasmin, by an Israeli investigator (Y. Goldberg), who, like the taxi driver, plays himself. We only hear the policeman’s voice, which makes the atmosphere even more frightening. He insists that Yasmin murdered Lenny for the diamond ring, and does not believe a word Yasmin says in her defence. Finally, Yasmin succumbs, telling him that she murdered for greed; she even makes up the details of the murder; even though, in the next scene, her forced confession is refuted.
DoP Asi Oren has conjured up melancholic black-and-white images of Tel Aviv, his close-ups in the interrogation room are masterful, and the doom-laden atmosphere remains til the final scene. Dodina and Saraya are brilliant, they have much more in common the culture that divides them. The directors show a vision of Israeli society not unlike that of Germany during Fascism: greedy and deceitful. The policemen play on these prejudices. A sad lament on daily life in the State of Israel, a tiny Jewish country surrounding by a mass of Muslim nations. And they are fiercely protective of the only place they can call their home. AS
UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018