A Tale of Love and Darkness

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A Tale of Love and Darkness review - Natalie Portman's love letter to Israel

Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Israeli author Amos Oz , it takes place in Jerusalem in the last years of Mandatory Palestine and the first years of independent Israel , and stars Amir Tessler as Oz, and Gilad Kahana and Portman as his parents. It is Portman's directorial feature debut. His parents are Eastern European Jews living in Jerusalem , which his mother finds difficult as her sisters and family live in Tel Aviv and communication between them is difficult.

Amos, an only child, is particularly close with his mother, who frequently tells him stories based on her childhood that often have unhappy or violent endings. Amos' parents regularly lend him out to a childless couple they are friends with. On one occasion this couple take him to visit a friend of theirs, a Palestinian Arab. They warn Amos to be quiet and not make much fuss lest he offend their hosts, but while playing with a swing he accidentally injures a child.

On November 29, , Amos' family and others from the neighbourhood gather around a radio in the street to hear the passing of United Nations General Assembly Resolution , which adopted a plan to partition Mandatory Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states.

Amos' parents are overwhelmed with joy. Soon afterwards, civil war erupts in Palestine. Amos' father enlists to fight in the Arab—Israeli War , while Amos and other children are recruited to the war effort.

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One of his mother's friends is killed while hanging up laundry during the war. Fania falls into a depression and becomes unable to sleep or eat. Amos and Arieh try their best to hide her depression from their friends and family. After a change in pills Fania abruptly becomes her old more lively self and tries to act normally for her husband and child. A short time later she relapses once more and goes to visit her sisters in Tel Aviv, where she kills herself by overdose.

Amos goes to live on a kibbutz. Reuniting with his father as a teenager, he shows him his new life but admits that despite his attempts at being a strong and healthy farmer he is still a pale and weak intellectual.

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According to Portman, she optioned the rights to the book over tea, while visiting with Oz and his wife. It took her eight years to write the script and find funding, during which time she insisted that the adaptation remain in Hebrew. It is the first film in which Portman speaks Hebrew.

His mother, Fania Mussman, told him stories peopled by giants, witches, fairies, tales that came from places where there were forests. Long after her death, her sister told Oz the whole story: of the grandfather who was both mill owner and communist, whose motto was: "Justice without compassion isn't justice, it's an abattoir. Small wonder that we wanted to be a nation, like the rest of them. What alternative had they left us? Driven from Rovno, where Polish universities had strict quotas of Jews, Fania went to Prague university until she was driven out of there as well by anti-semitism.

She arrived in Palestine in the nick of time and married Klausner, a sensitive, poetic, olive-skinned girl hitched to a right-wing pedant. Growing up, Amos, who had not yet broken with his father and changed his surname, wanted to be not a writer, who, he observed, "could be killed like ants", but a book, because however much you try to annihilate a book, there is always a chance that a copy would survive in some out-of-the-way library. As he grows up, the world outside the lower-middle class neighbourhood of down-at-heel intellectuals opens up to reveal another population: Jerusalem's middle-class Arabs.

Taken to a tea party in the home of a post office employee in honour of the British post-master general, he goes into the garden and tries to impress a little girl, puffed up with a sense of responsibility as a representative of the Jewish people and of Zionism. Excited and already a little in love, when she dares him to climb a mulberry tree he instantly transforms himself from Jabotinsky to Tarzan, from weedy yeshiva bocher to muscular Judaism, "the resplendent new Hebrew youth at the height of his powers He evokes the utter silence in the neighbourhood as they gather at midnight to listen on the radio to the result of the UN vote that would partition Palestine to create a Jewish state, the child feeling with his hand the tears on his father's face.


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The horrors of the war, the siege of Jerusalem - a boy playing in the street shot dead by a Jordanian sniper. His mother's deteriorating mental state. A farcical encounter with Menachim Begin.

The boy's loss of his virginity on the kibbutz and the painful encounter 40 years later with the woman who seduced him. The dogged ambition to understand why his mother took her life. It was reading Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio that showed Oz how he could be a writer, by writing exactly what he knew: "a dreary tangle of sadness and pretence, of longing, absurdity, inferiority and provincial pomposity, sentimental education and anachronistic ideals, repressed traumas, resignation and helplessness.

Helplessness of the acerbic, domestic variety, where small-time liars pretended to be dangerous terrorists and heroic freedom fighters, where unhappy bookbinders invented formals for universal salvation. No agreement is possible about the history of this conflict.

A Tale of Love and Darkness

There is no objective truth, however much Zionists and anti-colonialists wrangle. The Palestinian writer Samir el-Youssef has remarked on the new genre that is emerging in Palestinian literature: memoir. The subjective truths of the participants are the real story of this long war between Jews and Arabs. The generation that escaped to Palestine in the s were neither one thing nor another; the precursors of the idea of being Europeans, driven out of Europe by nationalism and racism, they arrived in the middle of a project to squeeze the ghetto of the Jewish soul.

Everything they brought with them, the memories of forests and old cities, the polyglot soul, withered in the Middle Eastern heat, like the plants in the garden the Klausners tried to grow.