Bring­ing com­pas­sion to the sur­vival in­stinct

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - CUL­TURE DANIELLA ISAACS

AMIR WOLF’S Fire Birds, which pre­mieres at the UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val next month, shines some well-de­served light on a gen­er­a­tion that we too of­ten ig­nore. Af­ter the body of Amikom, an 80-yearold Is­raeli man, is found with three stab wounds and a mys­te­ri­ous tat­too, po­lice de­tec­tive Am­non re­luc­tantly takes on the case. Fire Birds en­twines the fi­nal months of Amikom’s life, filled with lone­li­ness, sex­ual de­sire and a des­per­ate need to feel part of a group; all emo­tions that are felt just as in­tensely by younger gen­er­a­tions. Yet, rather than scream­ing and shout­ing about their prob­lems, the older char­ac­ters choose to ap­proach their woes with el­e­gance, strength and a sense of hu­mour.

At a time when much me­dia cov­er­age about old peo­ple is neg­a­tive and fewer in­ter­est­ing roles are on of­fer for the that gen­er­a­tion, it is no sur­prise that Wolf’s re­fresh­ing screen­play man­aged to se­cure some of the most re­spected stars of Is­raeli stage and screen. Wolf ex­plains: ‘‘I grew up with old ac­tors. I spent my youth watch­ing all the old Hol­ly­wood films, study­ing every­thing they did. They have years on their shoul­ders which means years of ex­pe­ri­ence and sto­ries, we need to lis­ten to those ex­pe­ri­ences with open ears and cher­ish them rather than merely for­get.’’

In fact, 80-year old Oded Teomi, who plays lead­ing man Amikom, has be­come one of Wolf’s clos­est friends since com­plet­ing the film. He ex­plains, ‘‘I’ve learnt that whether you are an 80-year old man, like Oded or a 30-some­thing like me, noth­ing changes: de­sires, fears, con­fu­sion, they are felt just as strongly. So age is just a num­ber — that’s all.”

Wolf is keen to stress that Fire Birds is not a Holo­caust film, yet the group of so­ci­ety that he has cho­sen to fo­cus on is a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial sec­tor, they are the re­main­ing sur­vivors; the last of their kind. ‘‘The Holo­caust can­not be es­caped within Is­rael, even by some­one from the third-gen­er­a­tion, it is a scab that is truly preva­lent within the Is­raeli ethos.’’

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on the tragic pasts of th­ese char­ac­ters’ lives, Wolf in­tro­duces a group who have used their later years to find suc­cess, hu­mour and


is a JFF high­light a gen­eral zest for life. They con­tinue to live within the ro­man­tic world of the Europe they re­mem­ber pre-Holo­caust. They dance the waltz, con­verse in Yid­dish while in­dulging in Stollen and ap­ple strudel. The char­ac­ters find so­lace in the past while the world changes so rapidly around them. “The Europe they pine for is what keeps them happy. It may have never ex­isted and it def­i­nitely is not a part of Is­rael to­day but it is what con­nects them as a group.”

Amikom is not part of the sur­vivors club, he is an out­sider pin­ing to fit in. Wolf clev­erly fuses com­edy with his tragic quest to be­come part of, as one of the char­ac­ters puts it, ‘‘the most hor­ri­ble club in the world.’’ His des­per­a­tion for friend­ship and ac­cep­tance is heart-break­ing yet also recog­nis­able; to feel ac­cepted, ap­pre­ci­ated and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, de­sired.

Wolf’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his elders has not only been shown in fic­tion. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing fund­ing from the Is­raeli film fund, the first per­son he re­cruited was his fa­ther, Itzhak Wolf. ‘‘My fa­ther was my first cin­ema teacher; he is the ul­ti­mate film buff.’’ Itzhak was raised by strict Pol­ish par­ents, which meant that he was not al­lowed to fol­low his dreams of pur­su­ing a ca­reer in film. In­stead, he be­came a lawyer and it was only in his mid-50s that he de­cided to ad­vance his pas­sion and went to Tel Aviv Univer­sity to study film. He showed great prom­ise but financial strug­gles en­sued caus­ing him to give up on his dream. Wolf ex­plains, ‘‘as soon as I had the chance to fol­low my dream, my fa­ther’s in­volve­ment was in­evitable.’’

With his fa­ther at his side, Wolf has cre­ated a heart­warm­ing, hon­est and comic film. ‘Fire Birds’ will be screened dur­ing the UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val’s clos­ing week­end gala on Satur­day Nov 21. For in­for­ma­tion go to­jew­ish­

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