Melancholy tale of living amid the dead
Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
Mountain (Ha'har), A film by Yaelle Kayam
2015 - Denmark-Israel - Drama
"A Complex Portrait of a Constrained Life" --Jay Weissberg, Variety
The enormous Jewish cemetery overlooking Jerusalem takes centre stage in this quiet, slowly unfolding family drama where a woman questions her isolated existence.
One of the more obnoxious things critics say about movies is that “the location is a character”. But in Mountain, a quiet, melancholy family drama set almost entirely at the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the location really is a character. There appears to be no trick photography and, considering how touchy folks can be about holy places (and considering what goes on in this film), one has to wonder if first-time director Yaelle Kayam lied on her permit applications.
Tzvia doesn’t have many shoulders to cry on. While the specifics of how and why are a little vague, the family live in solitude in a cold, cave-like house adjacent to the Mount of Olives cemetery. They aren’t caretakers (there is a chatty Arab who is), but they are there because a “Jewish presence” is preferred. A customary wire separates their house from the acres of stone steps and above-ground tombs. From their vantage point, they can see the Old City of Jerusalem and mixed in with Reuven’s morning Jewish prayers are church bells and Muslim muezzin calls.
As the increasingly lonely Tzvia begins taking late-night strolls around the mountain, she sees a couple having sex against a grave. Later, she sees that there is a group that gathers there each night. About six or so men drinking, maybe selling drugs. The women are probably prostitutes, though we don’t actually get that close to business operations. But Tzvia returns time and again to watch. Not so much out of prurience, but just because there’s some life out there with more happening than her own.
After bringing pots of stewed chicken, the sketchy folk start letting her hang around like a puppy, despite one of the women accusing her of trying to convert them. She later condemns Tzvia for her looks, saying it’s no wonder her husband doesn’t touch her.
Don’t worry, Mountain isn’t leading to an affirming, wacky makeover. Nor is it an excuse for miserablism. There is, instead, a patient anthropological game happening here. There are some missteps, such as the enormous “Chekhov’s Container of Rat Poison” that gets a closeup early on, but this is a double-whammy for voyeurs who want to see members of a community in unusual places.
However, even to other Orthodox Jews, Tzvia feels like an outsider. With visiting mourners her only peers, she is shocked to learn about a group of “her kind” in ultra-modern Tel Aviv. Without saying anything, we know she’d move there in a heartbeat.
Shani Klein, who was marvellous as the tough army sergeant in Zero Motivation, is achingly sympathetic. Her character’s physical softness is the visual counterpoint to the sharp, often chipped stones lining the walk to her isolated home. It is an altogether striking character, though the unhurried pace does begin to wear you down. Overlooking Jerusalem from a city of the dead, however, there is more than enough time to take things slowly.
A film by Yaelle Kayam
2015 - Denmark-Israel - Drama
A devout woman is living with her family in the Jewish cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. During the day, while her husband and children are at school, she is left alone in the mountain. She goes for walks in the cemetery, trying to escape the endless house work. One night, out of frustration, she storms out of the house climbing the cemetery, running wherever her feet will carry her. To her surprise, she is exposed to an unsettling sexual scene. Stirred by this image, she starts exploring this new realm of the mountain, while trying to keep a normal face during her daytime routine. Until she can't anymore.
cast: Shani Klein (Tzvia) Avshalom Pollak (Reuven) Haitham Ibrahem Omari (Abed)