To judge by his serene, faintly amused demeanor, Amos Gitai long ago accepted the mantle of bad boy to the Israeli cultural establishment. The 50-year-old director, whose oeuvre runs to more than 27 movies, videos and documentaries, most of which poke a quizzical nose into critical fissures in Israeli society, was raised in what passes for Israeli aristocracy. His mother, a disciple of Freud born in Palestine to Russian parents, began practicing psychoanalysis in the 1930s despite being told that ”everyone in Palestine is in perfect mental health.“ His father was a German-born Bauhaus architect. Gitai himself was a student of architecture when, at 23 years old, he was drafted into the Yom Kippur War and, as Kippur tells us, wounded when the rescue helicopter he was traveling in was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles.
For Gitai, as for many of his generation, the war was both a shattering personal experience and a crisis for Israel, drunk on the showy victory of the Six Day War, ”which today seems overglorious, almost kitsch,“ says Gitai in his lightly inflected English. The young state was hopelessly unprepared for the schisms — prominent among them relations with Arabs in and outside the country, and the widening gap between secular and religious factions — that have plagued it ever since. ”When we were shooting the film,“ Gitai says, ”the whole crew wanted to tell me where they were at the moment the war broke out. In a way, I think that this moment is for Israelis what the killing of Kennedy was for Americans. They all remember exactly where they were when the news broke.“
The war quite literally turned Gitai into a filmmaker. ”I had a little Super-8 camera. We would go into the middle of a battlefield, collect the people who were burning in the tanks, bring them to the helicopters. In the five minutes that we had from the Golan to the hospital, I used the camera. It helped me emotionally, creating a kind of shield so I could be a soldier and at the same time be a kind of observer. It took some years, but little by little I began to feel like making films.“ The war also shaped the kind of filmmaker Gitai would become: a thorn in the flesh of Israeli pieties about tolerance, democracy and the desire for peace. ”Anger is very good material,“ he says. ”You have to cultivate it and distill it. I felt when I came back angry from that war that I had earned the right to say what I wanted to say, and I‘m not going to give this right back.“
It took 27 years (”by any account a long time to write a script“) to get Kippur off the ground. It was released in Israel on October 6, the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. ”When the distributors planned it, they didn’t know that this year, on October 6, Israel would find itself engaged in a new serial battle.“ Despite a few bomb threats in Tel Aviv, the movie played to a warmer reception than other films by Gitai, and also played in competition at Cannes. Though Kippur seems a creature radically different — more nakedly autobiographical, more naturalistic, more forgiving — from Gitai‘s highly conceptual and stylized body of work, there are clear thematic continuities.
”In all my films, I try to break stereotypes,“ he says. ”In the first film I ever did, House, the story of a Jerusalem house whose ownership was changing between Palestinians and Israelis, I wanted to break the oversimplifications with which we Israelis looked at the Other. When I did Kippur, I wanted to break another simplification — the way we see ourselves as soldiers. I think the visual media, by bombarding this area with so many images, sometimes give us a very flat perception of it. Cinema has the option of being almost subversive by not accepting this simplification, by composing for us something a bit more complex. That’s my mission.“#