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Nov 04, 2008

Fueled by a new feature film, career retrospective and box set of rarely seen documentaries, the revival of Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai is in full swing.

By Rachel Fernandes

An accomplished and prolific filmmaker, Amos Gitai is often hailed as Israel’s first “auteur.”
“I was born in Israel—in Haifa—and so by all categories I am Israeli,” Gitai states. “But I don’t think that your country possesses everything that you are.”
He praises the language of cinema for creating a “common ground for filmmakers around the planet,” allowing them to transcend the limitations of geographic borders.
Despite his resulting success behind the camera, Gitai did not initially want to be a full-time filmmaker. His first passion was architecture, which he was studying when the Yom Kippur War broke out in Israel in 1973.
During and immediately following the conflict, Gitai used a Super 8 camera to capture the horrors happening around him. His experiences and the power of the footage inspired him to begin experimenting more with the medium.
While continuing to “dabble” in experimental and documentary filmmaking, Gitai earned his doctorate in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. “It started really gradually and took me a long time to admit that I would not be an architect—that I would make cinema,” recalls Gitai.
He credits architecture for giving him an initial “social legitimacy” that helped alleviate some of the pressure often felt by fledgling filmmakers.

Perhaps best known for his narrative films, especially Kippur (based on his war experience) and his “City Trilogy” (Devarim, Yom Yom and Kadosh), Gitai also produced and directed a variety of politically charged documentaries that were recently showcased in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Most of his films are drawn from his heritage and personal experiences; he tends to focus on relationships in a sociological context. They often spark controversy with their open criticism of religious fundamentalism and examination of the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Gitai’s signature style is clearly influenced by his architectural background and features long, unbroken takes with a robust attention to framing. His camera is known to “float” between rooms and through walls, giving the viewer the sense that the space containing the characters is virtually inseparable from the drama between them. In the last several years, Gitai has started using well-known international actors, such as Natalie Portman, Juliet Binoche and Hannah Schygulla.
His latest narrative work, Plus Tard (changed to One Day You’ll Understand in English), is set in Paris and stars the lauded French actress Jeanne Moreau as an aging mother who reveals her hidden Jewish heritage to her family shortly before her death.
A box set of Gitai’s early documentaries was recently released by Facets, and One Day You’ll Understand, which premiered on October 31 in New York, is set to open soon in cities nationwide.

Gitai discusses his conflicted relationship with his homeland and his philosophies of cinema. Watch FLYP’s video interview here.

A huge box office hit in Europe, Kadosh is the third installment in Amos Gitai’s provocative “City Trilogy.”
The story is set in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Sherim quarter of Jerusalem and follows Rivka, a woman madly in love with her husband of ten years, Meir, even after he forces her into exile because of her presumed barrenness.
The story also follows Rivka’s beloved sister, Malka, whose arranged marriage to a religious fanatic forces her away from her true love, Yakov.
Deeply humanistic and sensual, Kadosh is at once tragic and empowering, highlighting the emotional complexities of individuals forced into conformity by seemingly oppressive traditions.
Praised by critics worldwide and screened at film festivals in Cannes, Toronto, New Dehli and Tokyo, the film’s scathing critique of religious fundamentalism clearly resonates far beyond Israel’s borders.

Watch two key scenes from Kadosh, one of Gitai’s most celebrated and provocative narrative films.

FLYP has five clips from Gitai’s new box set, Territories, which boldly examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Watch them here.

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