We immediately went to the cinema complex yesterday morning where the Jerusalem film festival is taking place. There are three screening rooms on site alongside cafes and restaurants and a lovely lawn which overlooks Mount Zion. We poured over the programme trying to work out which films we wanted to see and whether or not they were being screened at times which suited.
In the end we decided that three films would be plenty for a single day, the first of which, The Beguiled, was screened at 5pm, giving us enough time to potter into the German Colony district of Jerusalem, which has a somewhat bohemian vibe. The buildings there are mostly rambling nineteenth century properties and there are all sorts cafes spilling out into the street. It is, of course, Shabbat from sundown on a Friday, and in an increasingly orthodox city, this pretty much means everything closes down on both Friday and Saturday, thus making the weekend pursuit for food quite challenging.
The Beguiled was an awful film. I feel really sad to have to report this fact, because it was directed by the much-lauded female director Sofia Coppola and had a largely female cast. I was really hoping that she'd bring something to the table which surprised me, something which made me feel this particular story needed to be seen and, furthermore, needed to be told be a female director. Actually, what I came away thinking was how horrible everyone was in the film, particularly the women. The story was about a "Yankee" soldier in the American Civil War getting wounded in the Deep South, where his sort were very definitely not welcome. It started well enough with lots of indulgent, art-house shots of autumnal trees representing the pent-up frustration and burgeoning sexuality of a group of young girls in a boarding school presided over by a buttoned-up Nicole Kidman.
...Then it starts to unwind. They find the wounded soldier, patch him up a bit, and, as he recovers, one by one, throw themselves at him. On the eve of his departure, he gets to choose which of girls he's going to shag. Will he pick the older Kidman, or the innocent twenty year-old, or the sixteen year old slag who spent the first half of the movie coming onto him with an almost ghastly forwardness. I think we're meant to be both surprised and disgusted that he chooses the sixteen year old. Of course he does. The role is played by horn-pot Colin Farrell! The twenty year-old virgin walks in on the scene and gets so angry that she throws Farrell down a spiral staircase. Whilst he's unconscious, Kidman, also jealous, sores his leg off and the film swings from the heaving-breast world of a Merchant Ivory picture into a Texas Chain Saw massacre with corsets instead of bikinis. Farrell is naturally a bit pissed off when he wakes up to find he's had his leg chopped off and freaks out a bit, but then apologises to the girls and agrees to sit down to a formal dinner with them, not realising they've fed him poisoned mushrooms. He dies. The girls feel happy. End of film.
The audience has no idea who they're meant to like and genuinely wonders whether Sofia Coppola is trying to convey the message that all women are vindictive and sex mad. If a man had made the film, women would have boycotted it. End of!
We then went to see "Death of a Poetess", an Israeli film (again with a female director) which was far more thought-provoking, but a little too arch in its desire to be cutting edge and innovative. Shot in black and white. Lots of static shots of waves crashing. A "talking heads" style improvised interview running throughout. I would certainly recommend it more highly than the nonsense of the Coppola film.
The last of the trilogy of films we saw was called Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. And where to start with that one? We went because it was billed as a musical. "Creative giant Bruno Dumont presents Jeanne's childhood as a musical comedy. Singing nuns, dancing angels and adorable sheep." It was awful. It reminded me of the little improvised plays my Godson used to do, right down to the formless, tuneless songs with terrible, and I mean laughably bad, dance routines. Dialogue was right on the nose. Two little girls spent hours discussing Christian philosophy. There was no plot. No jeopardy. It was boring. It was amateur. We walked out of the screening after ten minutes, somewhat astounded that there wasn't a rush of fellow audients in our wake! I think people are more likely to sit through a French language film without questioning it, and the audience were probably really excited at the prospect of a musical film. Trouble is, if shit like this gets made, no one will want to make another musical film. It was truly pants. Worst than pants: it was a complete and utter shed collapse. I came away knowing exactly why they'd burned that woman at the stake!
We went out to VideoPub, Jerusalem's only gay bar last night. Jerusalem is travelling in a backwards direction when it comes to openness and tolerance. The Jewish community here are increasingly orthodox. Gay people, non religious people and those who are progressive are moving wholesale to Tel Aviv. It's a subtle and nuanced issue but, in short, many of the ultra Orthodox Jews don't or can't work because so much of what would be expected of them in a job is at odds with their religious beliefs. They can't even switch lights on or turn on computers on Shabbat, so they require an entire infrastructure around them simply to live. The state continues to fund/ indulge them, however, even to the extent that they're exempt from doing national service. So they just hang about. You see them everywhere, just hanging about. Ultimately, it's the less orthodox or non-religious Jewish people who are funding them. A tipping point has arrived in Jerusalem where, for every progressive person who leaves, an orthodox person arrives...
The gay scene, as a result of all of this, is going back underground and getting smaller and smaller. Add to this the rise of online apps and websites which allow gay men to meet and communicate without leaving their homes (which suits a more religiously oppressed person) and you have a crisis for the gay clubs in Jerusalem. VideoPub clings on by its fingernails.
We had a great night meeting all manner of interesting people including the DJ who runs all the Eurovision nights. It was 3am by the time we left and I'd consumed enough gin and tonic to make me feel somewhat tipsy!