NICHNASTI PA'AM LAGAN (Once I Entered a Garden)

A filmmaker who has always made a point of grounding his work in his own personal experience, Israeli provocateur Avi Mograbi has been exploring the mosaic tapestry of Middle Eastern and, more specifically, Israeli identity throughout the particular way he looks at and sees his homeland. Throughout his work he has been chronicling in a unique way the contemporary moral questions that the Middle Eastern cauldron throws up at regular intervals, with the weight of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict assuming a paramount importance in pieces such as Z32.

     While Avenge But One of Thine Own Eyes remains his most powerful statement in terms of a political view of the conflict, Once I Entered a Garden explores the issue differently by turning to the historical identity of a region whose constantly shifting borders seem to make the whole antagonistic history of Arabs and Jews a minor blip in the great forces of history. "You can't escape your own history", so is said ad some point, and Mr. Mograbi explores here the intertwined history of both ethnic groups by traveling with his teacher of Arabic language, Ali al-Azhari, a Palestinian who married an Israeli woman and lives in Tel Aviv, and enlisting him to help find the director's own Arab ancestors.

     The true central figure of Once I Entered a Garden, though, is Ali's daughter, Yasmine, a young child who belongs to two worlds and yet is stuck in a no man's land. On a day trip to Saffieyeh, the village near Nazareth where Mr. Al-Azhari was born, they find it perfectly integrated into Israeli society and full of "do not trespass" signs, bothering Yasmin no end as she is unable to understand the arbitrary divisions that mean she is not allowed in a local children's park. These divisions without whom her elders can't seem to be able to live will eventually erode in time, suggesting a hope for the future that Messrs. Al-Azhari and Mograbi may not live to see, as their time shall pass and conflict will no longer seem inevitable.

     Once I Entered a Garden is richer in Mr. Mograbi's usual dry, garrulous humour that often makes him a sort of Israeli counterpart to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, and his welcoming, encompassing style where the film is not only his but also of his co-workers -  Mr. Al-Azhari's and even DP Philippe Bellaïche's. Though it may at first seem slightly more unfocussed, it actually becomes, as you let it unfold and sink in, one of Mr. Mograbi's most elaborate, enveloping and touching moments - one where it's really about the people making the film and how they fit and can make a difference in a bigger picture.

Director: Avi Mograbi
Screenwriters: Mr. Mograbi, Noam Enbar
Cinematography: Philippe Bellaïche
Music: Mr. Enbar
Editors: Mr. Mograbi, Rainer M. Trinkler
Producers: Serge Lalou, Mr. Mograbi, Samir (Les Films d'Ici, Avi Mograbi Films and Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion)
France/Israel/Switzerland, 2012, 103 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2013 official competition screener, Lisbon, October 17th 2013


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