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False nostalgia and cultural amnesia: the city of Tel Aviv in Israeli cinema of the 1990s.

This article deals with the cinematic representation of the city of Tel-Aviv in the last decade, beginning with the end of the first Intifadah in the late 1980s and ending with the outburst of the second Intifadah in 2000. The emergence of new identities in this seemingly peaceful decade--due to the very large wave of immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union and the emergence of post-Zionist ideology--created the ground for a new form of contestation, characterized by passivity and oblivion. The purpose of this article is to analyze the cinematic gaze through which the city is reflected, using three major strategies--heterotopia, simulacra, and amnesia.


"A man is the stamp of his country's landscape." This is how the Ukrainian-born poet Shaul Tchernikovsky expressed himself regarding the new Jewish identity that came into being in the Land of Israel in the early years of the 20th century. This quotation, which in time came to symbolize the essence of Sabra (native-born Israeli) existence, irreversibly linked the Sabra with the landscapes of his new country, the Land of Israel. As mobilized cinema, the Israeli film industry sought, both before the declaration of the State and afterwards, to use images of space to shape the new individual who would be born here. This ideological use was meant to give birth to the new Jew, who was differentiated from his predecessors in the Diaspora as being a determined laborer dedicated to a cause. According to the romantic spirit that constituted the basis of the Zionist vision at its inception, the proper place of this individual was in a natural setting far from the big city.

With the declaration of the State in 1948, cities began to appear in Israeli cinema. The city of Tel Aviv served as a backdrop for scenarios involving activist heroes who strove for self-realization by means of deeds, in the city as well as in nature. That decidedly urban individual, the flaneur (wanderer), identified by Walter Benjamin in the city of Paris at the end of the 19th century, (2) appears at the end of the 1960s in the "New Sensibility" films, as Judd Ne'eman calls the corpus of films that were made in Israel between the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War. According to Ne'eman, (3) these films preceded post-Zionist historiography by distancing themselves from the ideological foci that had been presented up to then in Israeli cinema. Moreover, this current preceded the 1980s enterprise of the post Zionist historians and sociologists:
    The New Sensibility cinema was the epitome of radical critique: the
    death mask aesthetics functioned, in fact, as a mechanism that
    exposed flawed reality. The film makers said "no" to yearnings to
    merge with Haim Guri's "Here Lie Our Bodies," they refused to fall
    "shadow-like" at the "plaster-face" on the flesh of the face in
    order to live, to negate the negation, to counteract the death-wish
    by constantly wearing the death-mask. (4)

In other words, the cinematic discourse regarding the influence of urbanization on the Israeli individual did not develop in its entirety until the appearance of the New Sensibility. However, this period then abruptly ended with the outbreak of Yom Kippur War, which temporarily restored the national discourse to the forefront of the cinematic stage. Only in the 1990s did Israeli cinematic discourse return to focus on the city. Like the New Sensibility, Israeli cinema in the 90s was generated in the hands of young filmmakers who attempted to turn their backs on Zionist ideological values at a time of crisis and political change. Like the New Sensibility, the chief preoccupation of films of the 1990s was a critical examination of the metropolis that had been created to the measurements of the imagined new Jew. However, whereas Zionist ideology had constituted the chief object of New Sensibility criticism, 90s cinema seemed to lack such a criticism, and their protagonists appear to be suffering from amnesia regarding the history of their nation. The significance of the lofty ideological undertaking has seemingly disappeared, and all that is left is a collection of fragments that are difficult to fit together in order to create a coherent memory.

The purpose of this article is to examine the representation of the city of Tel Aviv in a number of films that were made in the period between the end of the first Intifada (the end of 1989) and the outbreak of Intifada Al-Aksa (the end of the year 2000). This period includes a number of highly significant geopolitical events, including among others the loss of the original meanings of the Tel Aviv metropolis (and to a lesser degree, of the entire Israeli territory).

The first event relates to the series of dramatic events witnessed by the period, beginning with the outbreak of the first Intifada, which again raised the forgotten issue of territorial ownership. The Palestinian uprising inside the country's borders and in the occupied territories reminded many Israelis of the fact that the struggle for the land was not yet over. With the end of the first Intifada, the leaders of both sides began the formulation of the Oslo Accords that were meant to bring peace to the region. But not all Israelis welcomed the beginning of the peace process; tension escalated between left and right, reaching a peak with the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It is interesting to note that these stormy events were not overtly expressed in the Israeli cinema of the 1990s.

The second, no less significant, event relates to the demographic change that took place in the State of Israel as a result of the arrival of more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union (and who today constitute one-fifth of the population of the country!). Apart from their vast numbers, the most unique feature of these immigrants is the issue of what motivated them to immigrate. In contrast with the early Zionists, a large proportion of the Soviet immigrants did not arrive in Israel for ideological reasons, but as part of a wave of mass immigration that swept through Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. This is strikingly evident in their lack of affinity for Zionist culture and tradition and their adoption of unromantic, pragmatic attitudes with their arrival on Israeli soil. Whereas political events are absent from 1990's Israeli cinema, the demographic change is evident in various film scenarios and images, due, among other things, to the cinematic activity of filmmakers from the former Soviet Union.

The above geopolitical changes contributed both directly and indirectly to broadening and reinforcing a general trend of gradual separation from the specific significance of historical time and national place. The protagonists of Israeli cinema in the 1990s began a process of separation from the hegemonic voice, expressed by, among other things, a detached way of looking at the urban landscape, especially Tel Aviv. These figures stumble blindly through landscapes that were once loaded with significance, searching hopelessly for a sign of something familiar. The camera's translation of their gaze, turned to the city, generates its changing meanings. By means of the different architectural styles that bear witness to the changing influences that the city has undergone, the protagonists of 1990s Israeli cinema, who are none other than a metamorphosis of the flaneur, perceive the remains of the dream that appear before them: magnificent buildings that are inappropriate to their current surroundings as well as stylistic eclecticism. Thus these heroes are required to decipher the signs left behind by the visionary architects of the city of Tel Aviv, but due to their striving to detach themselves from the history and ideology of the place, they perceive the structures without understanding their meaning.

The common denominator of these films appears to be the adoption of a post-nationalist, even post-Zionist approach that focuses on the private space of small communities as if it were detached from the ethos and symbols of the State. This distancing from national time and space finds expression first and foremost in the appearance of new protagonists--new immigrants or hegemonic Sabras--who contemplate the area, and especially the city of Tel Aviv, as if it were a space without a past, which they try to decipher by means of their own personal-biographical understanding. Since they lack historical and/or ideological awareness, their viewpoint imparts a new meaning to the Zionist territory which does not coincide with the vision of the founding fathers but rather reminds one of a collection of architectural fragments that are open to several interpretations, some of them contradictory, as if they were fragments of a traumatic event whose traces have been lost. It seems as if in dealing with the architectural face of the city of Tel Aviv, Israeli cinema of the 1990s was attempting to put an end to the ideological relation between the Israeli and the promise that has long since been realized, as described by Walter Benjamin's Angelus Novus (Angel of History) metaphor:
    His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of
    events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage
    and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay,
    awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm
    is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with
    such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm
    irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is
    turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. (5)

The Angel of History is analogous with the urban wanderer who appears in the Israeli cinema discussed here. The latter no longer bears the image of the Sabra that once served as one of the pillars of Israeli national cinema, but now contains an admixture of identities in the process of formation. These are either recent arrivals or native-born Israelis who refuse to accept national historiography literally. For them, the facade of the urban landscape as it is expressed almost exclusively in the city of Tel Aviv; that same landscape that is gradually being destroyed or built on the ruins of the past is the face of the area's history and geography. Lacking the ability to decipher the signs, the protagonists of Israeli cinema of the 1990s are left to wander through a strange city. The metropolis that in the past witnessed the grandeur of the Zionist vision and the miracle of its realization, is now viewed by alien eyes that perceive the first Hebrew city in one of three ways: a) as heterotopia, i.e., as a collection of contradictory meanings that cannot be reconciled; b) as architectural simulacra, i.e., widespread architectural imitations whose source is unknown; or c) as a location that elicits cultural amnesia or false nostalgia, i.e., as an area that masquerades as mnemonic, but does not actually succeed in evoking meaning from the past. What these three ways have in common is the loss of a unified, cohesive perception of Israeli space.

a) Heterotopia

In his article "Different Spaces," (6) Michel Foucault suggests a new way of designating areas: utopia versus heterotopia. While utopias are sites without real place, thus preserving either analogous or opposing connections with an actual place, heterotopias, according to Foucault, are real places that are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. As a result they reflect not only their apparent, familiar meaning, but also additional ones. According to Foucault, the nature of heterotopia is that it is obliterated from the public agenda: the fact of its being built of many layers prevents it from conforming to any clear or known ideological system.

This ideological blurring, which can already be found in some of Israeli films of the sixties, (7) reappears as a critical subtext in one of the lesser-known Israeli films, The Flying Camel [ha-Gamal ha-Meoffef] (Rami Na'aman, 1994). On the surface, this is an adventure film in which three characters, a German-Jewish archaeologist, an Italian nun, and a Palestinian garbage collector, set out in search of a mythological effigy of the Israeli past, the "flying camel," which in the 1930s was the emblem of the Eastern Fair. This legendary fair, which opened in Tel Aviv in March 1934 with the participation of many representatives from Europe and Lebanon, was meant to demonstrate the success of the new Hebrew economy. The flying camel, a symbolic combination of the desert animal and the impetus towards renewal, was designed by the architect Arieh Elhanani with the aim of expressing the re-awakening of the primitive East enabled by the Hebrew settlers. However, a retrospective reading enables us to identify in this statue the paradoxical nature of the settlers' vision. As the symbol of Orientalism, the camel reflected the Orientalist thirst of the West to blend with the East; in being able to "fly," the camel resembled such heroes of Western mythology such as Icarus and Pegasus. What was perceived at the time of the Eastern Fair as the expression of a grandiose vision is criticized in Na'aman's film as a mutation, a mixture of contradictions. In the spirit of "Indiana Jones," the protagonists set out to find the parts of the statue that have been scattered throughout the city. Its head is found decorating the entrance to a restaurant, whereas its truncated body is inexplicably found embedded in walls of buildings. The three heroes, representatives of the various cultural and religious entities that populate the country, are confronted with the displaced remnants and understand that it is impossible to restore the vision to the city's former residents. The gaze they turn on the remains of the flying camel conveys the entire tragedy: the story of immigrants who were not prepared to accept the rules of the place and in a colonialist spirit tried to impose Western principles on the East. Contrary to their expectations, this symbolic displacement of an Oriental symbol did not create a Western country but a conglomeration of disconnected signifiers. The statue of the flying camel, representing this stylistic and cultural hybrid, offers a metonym for an impossible striving to combine East and West. The encounter of the three protagonists with the different parts of the statue symbolically expresses the failure of Israeli identity to achieve unity. The Flying Camel tells the story of the new society that has developed in Israel as hierarchical and discriminatory, refusing to acknowledge the Other.

Indeed, an investigation of the architectural enterprise of the founding fathers of the city of Tel Aviv is one of the topics by means of which the directors of these films express the failure of the vision. Everything is found to be crumbling; buildings have changed their function and are now bedecked with various and strange extensions that depart from their original spirit. Furthermore, for the first time in Israeli cinema heroes who are architects by profession appear. One of them, Gary, the hero of Joseph Pitchadze's film Under Western Eyes [LeNeged Eyna'im Ma'arviot] (1995), is an architecture student who, as a child, arrived in Israel with his family from the Soviet Union. When we meet up with him at the beginning of the film, he has returned from Germany, where he had gone to research the Bauhaus period in Tel Aviv. This choice is of course not accidental: that unique architectural school that combined fine and utilitarian art was developed in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, and its style was brought to the Land of Israel by members of the Fifth Aliyah (1929-1939). Its prominent representatives in this country--the architects Arieh Sharon and Jacob Richter--especially applied its principles in the city of Tel Aviv, at times totally ignoring the architectural spirit that was then dominant in the place and thus expressing their desire to replicate Western ideas in Mediterranean space. Gary, whose roots and childhood memories are located in the West, identifies with these ideas. Thus his interest in the Bauhaus architecture that was imported into the Mediterranean area becomes an analogy for his displaced identity, an identity that exists in a non-appropriated place. On his walks through the streets of Tel Aviv, he discovers that the Bauhaus buildings, the glory of Western architecture, are in a state of dilapidation. He turns his eyes skywards and discerns once magnificent balconies whose plaster is now peeling down to the foundations. Like the flying camel that was found scattered all over the city, the Bauhaus buildings are decaying in full view of the residents of the Israeli metropolis, without any public outcry. This evidence of the colonial history that strove to delineate space according to the lofty principles of Western identity is gradually disappearing.

Gary's attraction to Bauhaus architecture is a reminder of the tragedy at the center of the film, a son's attempt to forget his exilic past symbolized by his father. This is a dual tragedy of a subject and of a place. The father, accused of spying for his old homeland, the Soviet Union, has been arrested by the authorities. And just as the arrest of his admired father implies the end of an age of innocence, those buildings that once symbolized the dream of transplanting the foundations of Western culture into the Mediterranean space tell the tragedy of displaced identities.

The displacement of the architectural and conceptual space of the Soviet Union, like that of Germany, the birthplace of Bauhaus, allows director Pitchadze to present the contradictory meanings of Israeli space and the Diaspora spirit. Thus Gary's search for his runaway father turns into a symbolic quest whose aim is to discover his exilic roots. Gary's journey brings him to the desert, that primeval place, "interregnums of the present, where politics and old identities remember but new ones have not yet appeared," (8) where he discovers that his father is dead. That same desert finally offers the hero a suitable environment for creating his hybrid identity, an identity that will be constructed from within the Israeli space without ignoring its exilic past.

That same perception of the desert as in fact antithetical to the realization of the Zionist vision, whose metonym is the city of Tel Aviv, is what motivated several filmmakers of the 1990s to deal with utopia as a return to the past. Doron Eran's film The Road To Ein Harod [HaDerech LeEin Harod] (1990), an adaptation of Amos Kenan's science fiction novel, describes the journey of an idealistic hero accompanied by an Israeli soldier girl and a Palestinian Arab through an apocalyptic Israel in which order has been totally overturned. The film follows their journey to the last refuge of freedom, Kibbutz Ein Harod, where they attempt to start anew the entire Zionist Project, but in a different spirit. The idea that it is possible to erase all traces of the founding fathers' vision, i.e., the heterotopic nature of space, which deteriorated even as it was being realized, is what motivates the protagonists.

The same fantasy returns in another apocalyptic film, Saint Clara [Klara HaKdosha] (Ari Fullman and Uri Sivan, 1995). Like The Road to Ein Harod, this film too takes place in a futuristic time (designated as 1999), as corruption and decay have spread everywhere and infected everyone. A group of youngsters led by a violet-eyed girl want to enact a miracle and return the world to its former state, an uninhabited desert. In contrast to Doron Eran's film, however, Saint Clara ends with an earthquake that may possibly bring an end to the era by obliterating the whole area. These three films all have in common that they express their creators' desire to nullify the ambivalent burden of the land. Only a violent event, a centrifugal force that can remove the protagonists from the core of the Zionist ethos, is seen as able to obliterate the heterotopic character of the Israeli space. This can ultimately lead to the foundation of a new, flexible, tolerant space that will be capable of containing the members of all the different ethnic groups and religions that make up the country without their being obliged to give up their beliefs or loyalties to their past. However, only when the Israeli subject is able to contain his exilic past will he be able to determine his borders and map his territory, even if this territory does not exactly conform to the map of the country.

b) Simulacra

The heterotopic representation of the city of Tel Aviv in Under Western Eyes rests on the assumption that at another time, in a different state of mind, these buildings fitted in harmoniously with their surroundings. In contrast, Israeli cinema of the 1990s reveals another way of presenting architecture, that of a postmodern city in whose center may be found crowded tall buildings that dwarf human beings and create an effect of alienation. This architectural style is not unique to Israel and can be found in all those countries that imitate the utopian language of American architecture without trying to examine in depth the modernist thinking that gave rise to it.

Contrary to the Bauhaus buildings that were imported by German architects at the beginning of the Zionist era, these high-rise buildings are nothing more than an imitation of American modernist architecture that itself blurs the historical and artistic sources that gave rise to it. Thus they correspond to Plato's conception of a "simulacrum," an identical copy of something for which no original has ever existed. (9)

In the 1990s, the cinematic representation of such buildings became part of the critical approach to space and territory. Not only did it express overt criticism regarding the Americanization that had permeated the Israeli scene, but also of the conscious relinquishing of the original representations and ideas that had formed the basis of the Zionist vision. If the image is the appearance of everything, then the tall buildings that appear in so many 1990s films should be regarded as the striving of Israeli culture to adopt a cosmopolitan identity. Whereas if, at its inception, Israeli cinema had a penchant for following the growth of the urban landscapes that emerged from the sand, Israeli cinema of the 1990s presents a clear, sharp skyline where tall buildings rise juxtaposed, creating a kind of wall that encloses the city. These same skyscrapers are the first view seen by those arriving from the sea and are meant to epitomize the city's character, but in fact they are no more than reproductions encountered ad nauseum in capitalist countries in other words, architectural simulacra. This phenomenon is dealt with in one of the more avant-garde films of the 1990s, Eddie King (Gidi Dar, 1992), which borrowed its plot framework from Nissim Aloni's play of the same name. Eddie is the naive hero of the film who accidentally gets involved in a world of crime that seems to have been borrowed from the genre of American gangster films. The parodic plot, shown from his point of view, tells the story of the complex relationship between a femme fatale, a love-struck gangster, and a press tycoon who has recognized the unique business potential of the Israeli place.

Although Eddie's journey takes him through the oriental and occidental sides of the city of Tel Aviv, most of the film takes place in Jaffa, the Arab city adjacent to Tel Aviv, whose vistas are diametrically opposed to the architectural simulacra offered by the Tel Aviv coastline. Contrary to the simulacrum of the coastline, the city of Jaffa, with its oriental buildings, represents the authentic Israeli place.

Therefore, by presenting space as a simulacrum, the film seems to suggest that the authentic Israeli identity is merely a pretense and one only needs to scratch the surface to discover its falsity (as in fact happens in the scene that concludes the film, which shows a no-man's land/desert). This provocative approach of many of the films of the 1990s is already evident in the opening shot, where from a bird's-eye view of the sea, the camera moves gradually upwards and reveals the coastline of the city tall, densely crowded buildings. Like many of these films, Dar's film too deals with the struggle over Tel Aviv's identity. The first lines of dialogue are heard against the sound of waves and present a confrontation between a coastguardsman and the American tycoon as he is about to reach the shore. The dialogue takes place in a medley of languages: while the coastguardsman is speaking Hebrew, a black woman wearing traditional African clothes is translating his words into French, and the unwanted visitor is answering in English. The use of several languages reveals the subversive intentions of the director, who suggests viewing space and language as an alternative to time and the Zionist ethos. The routine dialogue about the permission to anchor near the shore turns into a philosophical-political parody. Whereas the American businessman claims that the State of Israel is no more than a third-world country, the coastguardsman reiterates the great achievements of the Zionist enterprise in everything related to modernization. However, his words are heard against a backdrop of the characterless coastline of the city of Tel Aviv that could be anywhere in the United States or even in Singapore. The juxtaposition of the pro-Zionist speech being heard on the soundtrack and the architectural simulacra shown on the screen cancels out the words' validity.

These same Israeli skyscrapers, completely unrelated to Israeli identity, mainly express the postmodern architectural solutions that were adopted in various places around the world in order to fulfill the needs of the capitalist city into which people are pouring from the hinterland. The result is architecture that has no correlation with its locale, since it is a copy of a copy of a copy of what was once the expression of the American modernist utopia; in other words, a simulacrum. In contrast to the architectural representations that were discussed in the heterotopia section, the simulacra appear in 1990s cinema in order to point out the distance between the Israeli citizen and the aspirations of his founding forefathers. One could claim that the appearance of the coastguardsman in Eddie King's opening sequence exemplifies the film's critique of the Israeli establishment in general and of Zionism's acculturating colonialist mission that attempted to uproot from its foundation the Levantine character of the Mediterranean space, in particular. However, he is a minor character who will not appear again in the film. In fact, his speech serves simply to introduce the film's hero, Eddie King, who, throughout the entire plot, is presented as a man without qualities, prepared to absorb cultural influences from whatever crosses his path.

In his film Dvarim (Zichron Dvarim) (1994), based on the canonic book Memorandum by Jacob Shabtai, director Amos Gitai goes even further. The film depicts a nine-month journey that Goldman (played by Amos Gitai) together with his friends Cesar and Israel takes through Tel Aviv, the city of his birth, in an attempt to find meaning in his own life. These symbolic nine months begin with the death of Goldman's father and end with his decision to end his life. Between these two events, Goldman and his friends amble through the urban space of the first Hebrew city, from house to house, from woman to woman. In one of the opening scenes of the film, when they learn of the death of Goldman's father, his two friends set out to find their friend's father's grave. In the course of this innocuous journey, over the intercom of the taxi a list of Tel Aviv addresses is heard being recited, as if it were an endless list of signifiers--a map with no territory corresponding to it. The protagonists sitting in the taxi look out on the city's new buildings that are lacking in soul and especially in memory, and which are also reflected on the taxi's windows. This phenomenon is emphasized when the two friends arrive at the cemetery and walk among the graves. The mise en scene foregrounds numerous graves arranged in immaculate order (the gravedigger, who keeps careful records of who is buried there, is depicted as a guardian of public order), while the background presents the new buildings that have been constructed very close to the cemetery. The symbolic juxtaposition of death and the architectural simulacra strengthens the feeling that nothing has really been achieved, and the voices of the founding fathers, like their enterprise, have been silenced by the sons who came along and hastily put up imitation Western buildings. As in Under Western Eyes, architecture becomes a central motif in deciphering the entire film. The relation between fathers and sons that lies at the film's center is duplicated by means of the architecture that juxtaposes in the same frame the visionaries' graves and their distorted (architectural) legacy.

c) Amnesia

Architecture has always served as an exhibition of memory. Not only headstones and memorials, but also buildings take part in relating a national narrative. Therefore, in most Israeli films, the city of Tel Aviv in which it features always played a role in shaping the protagonists' identity. (10) But this situation changes in the films of the 1990s. (11) When Oded, the hero in The Distance (HaMerhak) (Dan Wollman, 1994), takes his parents' caregiver, a new immigrant from Russia, on a tour through the Tel Aviv neighborhood of his childhood, a neighborhood that is full of Bauhaus buildings, he appropriates the architecture as part of his own personal history. Like many protagonists in the films of that period, he too is an architect who is well acquainted with the secrets of the buildings among which he is walking. His personal act of appropriation, however, leads him to present each building by means of family anecdotes and rituals. For him, like for many of the heroes of 1990s cinema, the architecture of the city has turned into individual practice. The determinant is no longer the circumstances that created this architecture but rather those by which it is emotionally perceived by the subject. In other words, this scene does not reveal a memory that deceives the hero but rather the selective non-national memory of 1990s cinematic heroes.

Oded, the hero of The Distance, is in the throes of a dilemma surrounding the question whether to remain in the United States with his American wife and daughter or to return to Israel and assume his professional role as an architect, and especially as his parents' son. However, this dilemma has no basis since he himself admits that he feels no connection with the people in the country but only with its landscapes. It turns out that Oded--and it is not by chance that the actor who portrays him also acted in the director's first, autobiographical, film, Hide and Seek (Machbo'im) (Dan Wollman, 1980)--is suffering from the post-modern syndrome known as "false nostalgia." In other words, he is not intrigued by any personal or national history, but by its visual, fashionable, or architectural manifestations that are totally devoid of historical significance. For him, the presentation of the past no longer represents the historical past, "it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past." (12) The modernist past fades and disappears and is replaced by signs that may be deciphered according to the position of the observer. The hero's choice of separation from the meanings of the past indicates that he has opted for a new kind of forgetting, post-modern amnesia. As Chambers notes, (13) subjective memory, memory as we tell it to ourselves, protects us from a situation in which the past is capable of engulfing and swallowing the present. In designing, defining, and locating his own story of the past, the individual creates a refuge for himself where, as Hannah Arendt (quoted by Chambers) writes, "All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them." (14)

Thus Oded creates a story for himself in which the Zionist and pioneering past is absent. As a kind of amnesia that a person brings upon himself, Oded attempts to view the scenery and architecture as though they had not been created by a human hand, but had appeared as a natural outgrowth. This is the only way he can bear the pain of relinquishing the Zionist message that determined his childhood and its landscapes. Cultural amnesia is the stratagem that Oded adopts in order to survive the weight of historical significance and symbolism that are intrinsic to the views of Tel Aviv, the city of his childhood. Erasing the heavy weight of the past is what allows him to move through the present and ultimately choose to return to the Diaspora. As in the rest of the films discussed in this article, national history and geography undergo a process of deconstruction and re-appropriation by individuals who create the story that will enable them to detach themselves from the Zionist ethos.


The films discussed in this article, Eddie King, Under Western Eyes, The Flying Camel, The Road to Ein Harod, Saint Clara, Dvarim, and The Distance, were all produced during the last decade of the 20th century, immediately after the end of the First Intifada. At this time, the connection of the new Jew with his land, and with the endeavors of his forefathers who sought to change the destiny of that land, was contested. Against the backdrop of this perception, the idea of a man who would be his country's landscape seems more ironic than ever. By virtue of their being post-ideological heroes, the protagonists of these films, like the rest of the heroes of Israeli cinema of the 1990s, are no longer loyal to the heroic aura of the past or to the ideological vision of their forefathers. The subjective gaze they turn on the urban landscape of the first Hebrew city reduces its architectural views to remnants of a faraway time, which they neither recognize nor acknowledge. Consequently, the images of the city of Tel Aviv, which could have constituted the basis of an archaeological investigation of the urban Zionist dream, no longer succeed in serving as a map of national memory. The eclectic views of the city are engulfed by the personal memories of cinematic heroes with hybrid identities who use them in order to inscribe their own personal history. The wide use made of architectural images in Israeli films of the 1990s became a means of recording the gap that has widened between the individual and the Israeli space, whose metonym is the city of Tel Aviv. Israeli cinema of the 1990s was born out of the trauma of the First Intifada and suffered a resurgence of that same trauma in the wake of the Second Intifada. Its adoption of the opaque images of Tel Aviv's eclectic architecture was intended to indicate what its heroes are not yet able to express: namely, dissatisfaction with the meanings that emerge from that space and an awareness that a new multi-cultural identity must be created as the only possible means of expressing its true identity.

Yael Munk

Tel Aviv University

(1) I would like to thank to Professor Nurit Gertz and Ms. Sandra Meiri who read this article and offered constructive comments. I also wish to thank Ms. Naomi Paz for her valuable editing.

(2) According to Walter Benjamin, the flaneur is an urban wanderer, a new figure that appeared in France in the 19th century and whose purpose was to symbolize the difference between the city and the crowd (Walter Benjamin, "The Return of the Flaneur," in Selected Writings: 1927-1934 [Harvard University Press, 1999 (1929)], Vol. 2, p. 313).

(3) Judd Ne'eman, "The Death Masks of the Moderns: A Genealogy of New Sensibility Cinema in Israel," Israel Studies (Ben Gurion Research Center: Ben Gurion University, 1999).

(4) Ne'eman, "The Death Masks of the Moderns," p. 125.

(5) Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History," in Selected Writings, 1938-1940, ed. Michael J. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 2003 [1940]), vol. IV, p. 392.

(6) Michel Foucault, "Different Spaces," in Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, ed. James Faubion (London & New York: Penguin Books, (1998 [1994]), pp. 175-185.

(7) See Anat Zanger, "Zionism and the Detective: Imaginary Territories in Israeli Popular Cinema," Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol. 3 (2004): 307-318.

(8) Jonathan Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), p. 9.

(9) Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).

(10) As is the case in Uri Zohar's trilogy--Peeping Toms, Big Eyes, and Save the Lifeguard--where the Tel Aviv beach is an integral part of the Mediterranean lust for life of its protagonists.

(11) See Anat Zanger, "Sweet Einat Strikes Back: Positions Feminine de la Camera en Temps de Guerre," in D'ailleurs et d'ici: Israeliens, Palestiniens: que peut le cinema (Paris: Les Editions Michalon, 2005).

(12) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), p. 47.

(13) Iain Chambers, "Maps, Movies, Music and Memory," in David B. Clarke, ed., The Cinematic City (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 236-237.

(14) Chambers, "Maps, Movies, Music and Memory," p. 237.
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Author:Munk, Yael
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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