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Cannes Classics | Update : 13.02.18 . 7:03 PM

Israel's widows and the struggle against convention

Film still of Matzor (Siege)

Film still of Matzor (Siege) © CFE – Comité du film ethnographique / Inoussa Ousseini

Shot in black and white, Matzor (Siege, 1979) tells the story of a young Israeli widow and her attempts to find some semblance of normalcy following the death of her husband during the Six-Day War. Gila Almagor lends texture to the political dimension of this film by Gilberto Tofano, who examines women's emancipation in a country stifled by social conventions.

What is the background context to the making of Matzor?

The film was made two years after the Six-Day War, at a time when the country was riding high on a tangible sense of euphoria. It served as a reminder to the entire country that even though Israel won the war, it lost lives, with women also sacrificed as collateral. Matzor (Siege) expresses the idea that there is no winner in war. There are victims on both sides of the barricade.

 

How were war widows seen by wider Israeli society at the time?

They were under constant supervision. Widows were expected to submit to the rules of society. To fail to do so was to be very badly seen indeed. You were required to live alone, carrying sorrow in your heart, and taking care of your children. Some were forced to leave the country in a bid to rebuild their lives and live without fear of reprisal. Today, women are freer, more independent. This film is an important testimony.

 

You are the brain behind the script. When did the story first plant its seed in you?

I've always had it in me. My mother was widowed at the age of 23 after my father was assassinated by a sniper in 1939, before I was born. She lived her life alone after that, and it was very difficult for her. Years later, after my first two years in New York (where I'd moved to for my studies), I began visualising the story of a war widow, as I was walking alone along Broadway. When I got back home, I sketched it out. Later, my husband and I shared our home with a young Italian documentary maker called Gilberto Tofano. One morning over breakfast, we discussed the concept with him, which had until then stayed dormant in my sketch books. We suggested he direct the story. We soon gathered together the funds needed to make the film. Dahn Ben Amotz, who plays my lover in the film, agreed to collaborate on the script.

 

Artistically-speaking, the film is a major turning point for Israeli cinema...

That's true. Gilberto has a documentary maker's eye, and he decided to splice the film with documentary images. This was a first in the history of Israeli film. This choice lent the film a narrative style reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard and the New Wave directors. Calling into question the weight of convention that rests on widows' shoulders in Israel was also a bold move.

 

What's your personal filming highlight?

The work I did with the little boy who played my son. Because his lines sounded too much like he'd learnt them by heart, I asked Gilberto to leave me alone with him to work on it. So all of his scenes were actually improvised. In one of them, we're having breakfast together and he starts talking about a completely fictional dream. That was the most beautiful moment of filming, for me.

Written by Benoit pavan

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SIEGE
Cannes Classics

MATZOR

Gilberto TOFANO

ISRAEL - 1969

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Cannes Classics Released on 24.05.17

Israel's widows and the struggle against convention

Shot in black and white, Matzor (Siege, 1979) tells the story of a young Israeli widow and her attempts to find some semblance of normalcy following the death of her husband during the Six-Day War. Gila Almagor lends texture to the political dimension of this film by Gilberto Tofano, who examines women's emancipation in a country stifled by social conventions.

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Cannes Classics24.05.17

Israel's widows and the struggle against convention

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