March 1st. 2020
I was looking for a film to present to our Secular Jewish group and I suddenly thought of EPILOGUE dir: Amir Manor shown at the BFI festival in 2012 that had impressed me. Amour and Quartet also featured at the festival the same year and I put Epilogue (also titled Hayuta Ve Berl) on hold until the dvd with English subtitles was released. Sporadically during these years I checked online for the dvd with English subtitles but I realised that this search was pointless and consulted French sites. Yes a dvd of the film with French subtitled exists.
While waiting for the delivery I looked for reviews of the film on English sites…. Listed on Rotten Tomatoes but not one review reference. No presence on metacritic. My daily paper The Guardian? no review. Ebert? could not trace one. IMDB? quotes 13 wins and 6 nominations for director or both actors. In particular Tokyo FILMeX Grand Prize: the directorial debut film deals with the tragic issues of old people as well as the collapse of the 20th Century ideology.
The Israel-Catalog entry is also accurate :
(https://www.israel-catalog.com/movies-tv/movies/epilogue-hayouta-uberl-2012-israeli-movie). But this site displays two banners in big red script NO LONGER AVAILABLE .
The coronavirus crisis has hit us and at 85 years old we are completely isolated. Life is upside down and films less interesting. But I must come back to Epilogue. I realise how this film touched me deeply and personally. It touched me on two different levels: my thoughts about Israel and my feelings about the old couple relationship.
Although I am not of the generation of Israeli ideological founders I arrived in Israel in the 1958 from Beirut via France, and England. I was full of socialist illusions soon to be destroyed by the racism I experienced working as a nurse. I came across deep racist attitudes towards Palestinians (workers in the hospital and patients) but also to a lesser degree towards Arab Jews. I did not settle in Israel and remained appalled by its racism.
With effective mise-en-scene, editing and sound, this film reveals the situation of the old couple Hayuta and Berl in a changed world. They are not Holocaust survivors. They arrived in Israel with socialist ideals and in their 80s find themselves poor, isolated, humiliated.
The film takes place over one day and the title sequences show their flat situated on the fifth storey of a nearly abandoned building. The camera follows Berl who goes down painfully to get his post. Bare electric wires and connection boxes in the open are visible across the walls. Newspapers litter the stairs. In the meantime Hayuta is under the shower passively leaning, against the wall exhausted. We only see one tenant who complains about Israel’s left wing paper: Ha’Aretz.
The first sequence demonstrates the humiliating treatment of old people who need to prove that they deserve social help. (No different from the situation in England now and Loach’s realist genre). The long and sometimes absurd examination infuriates Berl who finds the examination demeaning. Hayuta is passive, resigned. She sits silent, but gives a hand to Berl when he needs it.
When they look for some money to spend we are shown two containers under the bed. One has only a few coins in. The other Jewish National Fund blue tin – present in many Jewish households, symbolic of hopes surrounding the foundation of Israel. I could not but remember the report in Ha’aretz (Nov 2006) about the treatment of Holocaust survivors and how in their poverty they had to get food rejects in the dustbins. ‘it is better today to be a Holocaust survivor in the United States or France, not to mention Germany, than to be one in Israel’.
The relationship between the old couple is painfully realistic. The great actors Rivka Our and Yosef Carmon are seen as loving but with different attitudes to their predicament. Isolated, their only son lives in NewYork, and with little available money they seem to have no support. Berl hangs on to his socialist ideals. He has fallen out with his son, but Hayuta wishes their relationship was warmer. It is left for us to wonder about the father/son differences.
Alternate sequences filmed in the flat and in town follow the couple during one day. Each sequence exposes an aspect of their personality. Each one exposes years of experiences and life together. Each one exposes an Israel that they feel has betrayed their dreams.
Hayuta needs to go out. Can’t it wait another day? says Berl? It is later that we realise that the “it” is their resolve to commit suicide.
Berl tries to repair their dilapidated flat with no success. He phones pest control. He damages the electrical circuits. He goes to visit an unconscious friend in hospital. The nurse seems uninterested in her patient. He tries to sell his collection of socialist books but finds that the bookseller is not interested in these authors. Back home he canvases people on the phone to try and organise a socialist meeting for mutual help. He is not understood.
There is a funny episode where Berl needs to rent smart clothes for him and Hayuta in a second hand shop with the help of a gay vendor.
In the meantime Hayuta goes to the chemist. In a painful scene we see her try to purchase some medication but she has not enough money to pay for the diabetic drug and goes out with a strong sleep-inducing drug only. The young pharmacist understands the situation and kindly gives her the diabetic medication. She goes to the cinema to see Indiana Jones where she falls asleep. She walks the dark streets of the town. A man accosts her. He is looking for his partner and calls her name. She finds some food in a dump. She phones her son for news of his family, hides her tears and makes her way home.
Two thirds into the film the loving couple confront each other. There follows a cruel marital row. Hyata explodes in response to Berl’s fantasy – his dream of a socialist Israel. . Hayuta: I have tried to tell you this for these 3 years …we are not useful to anybody …tell me that you can look after me…. Berl: … you are mad….. you are dead … I cannot take anymore.
She falls in a diabetic coma. In a touching scene he revives her and in the light of candles and the heat of burning books they dress in the rented clothes, cuddle and dance and sing. It is their wedding anniversary.
An extreme close up of their faces in the dark. They reassure each other.
Berl: It should not have ended in this way. We were mistaken
Hayuta: We were true to ourselves. We organised a new society and they sold it. We did what we could .
She assures him that their son has forgiven him. The shot is an extreme closeup and Berl hands Hayuta a packet. Here again we are left trying to decipher a message that has not been obvious. But Hayuta explains. She does not want to die, humiliated, in hospital, examined by the social security if I am ill…cared for by a Philippin nurse. …I do not want to stay here, I feel foreign. I want this night to last forever. He replies I do not want to stay here without you.
The closing scenes show them leaving the house. They stop at a food stall that is shutting for the night. The last last contact is with a young man who serves them without charging them. The last shot is of the second-hand clothes shop and the owner hanging their borrowed clothes.
I do not think I did give justice to this understated film with many subtle symbols about an old couple. I found the film extremely delicate and complex in its treatment of an old couple relationship in a changing world. I have not in my concentration on ‘the old woman in film’ given any attention to old couples representation. Tokyo Story and Make Way for Tomorrwow are the two classics that come to mind.
I am very surprised that the few reviews in English do not mention the political background of the film. There are a few French reviews that do and consider the political background. I was lucky to find the dvd.
Won Awards of the Israeli Film Academy 2012 = Won Bratislava International Film Festival 2012 = Won Gijón International Film Festival 2012=Won Thessaloniki Film Festival 2012=Won Tokyo FILMeX 2012
I saw the film when I was in London, shortly after returning from Jerusalem. Found it very poignant and very truthful. Thank you for reminding me of it. I would like to watch it again.
Hope you are OK. We are lucky to be in the country with beautiful garden. I am restless, nonetheless.
Stay well. Love Judith x