Moun­tain climb­ing

Is­raeli di­rec­tor Yaelle Kayam reaches a peak

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By HAN­NAH BROWN

‘For many years I wanted to make a movie on the Mount of Olives,” said Yaelle Kayam, who has re­al­ized her dream with her movie, Moun­tain, which is play­ing through­out Is­rael and at fes­ti­vals around the world.

“Vis­ually, the place is so strong, it just spoke to me. The place con­tains so many sto­ries, hopes, dreams and nar­ra­tives. It’s the old­est Jewish ceme­tery in the world that is still ac­tive.”

The movie has won sev­eral international prizes, in­clud­ing the Spe­cial Jury Award at the San Fran­cisco International Film Fes­ti­val.

It tells the story of an young Ortho­dox woman, played by Shani Klein, who gave such a mem­o­rable per­for­mance as the com­man­der in Talya Lavie’s Zero Mo­ti­va­tion. The woman lives in a small house in the ceme­tery on the Mount of Olives with her fam­ily. Feel­ing iso­lated, she be­gins wan­der­ing through the graves at night, shocked and fas­ci­nated to find pros­ti­tutes and pimps con­duct­ing their noc­tur­nal busi­ness there, in en­coun­ters that change her ir­re­vo­ca­bly.

“At the be­gin­ning, I knew I wanted to tell a story about this place, but I didn’t know ex­actly which story I wanted to tell. I knew that [the poet] Zelda was buried there, and I tried to find her grave. I talked to one of the Arab work­ers and he helped me find it. When I was at her grave, I read her po­ems on my smart­phone and I thought of a woman in a small kitchen with a moun­tain of dishes in the sink. Out of her win­dow, she sees the Tem­ple Mount and the Mount of Olives. I started imag­in­ing about her life... I knew some­thing big would hap­pen to her but I did not know when it would hap­pen, and through this I started to work.”

Kayam, who stud­ied film­mak­ing at the Sam Spiegel Film & Tele­vi­sion School, Jerusalem, had fin­ished her stu­dent grad­u­ate project, a short film called Di­ploma. The film is about a Pales­tinian brother and sis­ter in He­bron try­ing to get her col­lege grad­u­a­tion dur­ing Purim cel­e­bra­tions and it won third place in the Cine­fon­da­tion pro­gram at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

“I know why this idea of the woman in the Mount of Olives spoke to me. It was af­ter my grad­u­a­tion project, and I talked about do­ing a fea­ture, but it was not clear it was go­ing to hap­pen. Start­ing work on Moun­tain was like an up­hill climb.”

Kayam re­al­ized that she needed to be­come as fa­mil­iar with the Mount of Olives as her hero­ine would have been.

“I went to the Mount of Olives a lot. I talked to peo­ple who worked there, vis­i­tors, tour guides, any­one who felt a con­nec­tion to the place. I heard many sto­ries, from peo­ple with many be­liefs, Jews, Chris­tians and Mus­lims.”

Among the sto­ries that moved her was one, told in sev­eral ver­sions, of a woman who was a whore in Greece and who re­ceived help from a priest or imam to come to Jerusalem and lived there, dis­guised as a holy man.

“There are the im­ages of the Madonna and the whore, the holy woman or the sex­ual woman, that are con­nected to this place. It in­ter­ested me to con­nect these sto­ries to my char­ac­ter, who is a ‘Woman of Valor.’ She tries to be a good woman, a good mom and a good wife, but she still has to feel the pain of sex­ual re­jec­tion,” when her hus­band, a yeshiva teacher who is cor­rect but cold with her, ig­nores her.

Kayam, who is from a sec­u­lar back­ground, nev­er­the­less felt very close to this re­li­gious char­ac­ter.

“I live in Is­rael, with this di­chotomy of religion and sec­u­lar­ism... I lived in Jerusalem while I was at film school and I love it very much, but it’s com­pli­cated. My first year in Jerusalem, it was dif­fi­cult to get used to the city... I have sec­u­lar friends who grew up ul­tra-Ortho­dox, and re­li­gious friends who grew up sec­u­lar.”

Although Moun­tain tells the story of one re­li­gious woman, “All of us women can iden­tify with her” and her strug­gle be­tween sen­su­al­ity and duty.

At many screen­ings around the world, “women have spo­ken to me and have said, ‘You told my story,’” says Kayam, happy that women from dif­fer­ent cul­tures – the film has been shown at many film fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing ones in Italy (at the Venice International Film Fes­ti­val), Switzer­land, Sweden, Turkey, Bel­gium, and the US – were able to re­late to this story that is so unique to Jerusalem.

Although Kayam, who counts among her in­flu­ences the films of French di­rec­tor Chantal Ak­er­man and Tal­mu­dic lessons, is start­ing to work on a new film, she is still in­volved with Moun­tain, and is bring­ing it to fes­ti­vals around the world.

“Many things are still keep­ing me con­nected to this Moun­tain,” she said.

(Amit Ber­lowitz)

‘FOR MANY years I wanted to make a movie on the Mount of Olives... Vis­ually, the place is so strong, it just spoke to me. The place con­tains so many sto­ries, hopes, dreams and nar­ra­tives,’ says Is­raeli fil­maker Yaelle Kayam in re­gards to her de­but...


IS­RAELI AC­TRESS Shani Klein por­trays a young Ortho­dox woman liv­ing on the Mount of Olives in ‘Moun­tain.’

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