The late Assi Dayan was a chartered member of Israel’s secular cultural elite, but in David Volach’s melancholic My Father My Lord, he plays David Eidelman, a deeply pious Israeli Orthodox rabbi who’s dealing with the emotional fallout of a personal tragedy.
In the first scene of the film, scheduled to be presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on October 5 at 7 p.m. at the Varsity, Eidelman is torn by agony as he sits at his cluttered desk. His face is contorted by grief and tears slip down his cheeks.
What could have possibly happened?
At this juncture, the film flashes back in time. As Eidelman immerses himself in his books and notes, Menachem (Ilan Griff), his son, falls asleep nearby. Eidelman gently carries him to his bed.
Being a fundamentalist, the rabbi tries to impose his rigid views on Menachem, a curious boy who’s about two years shy of his bar mitzvah. Eidelman urges him to tear up a postcard of African tribesmen after condemning it as “idolatry.”
Esther (Sharon Hacohen Bar), his mother, is far more lenient and tolerant of the outside world, which perhaps explains why Menachem is more attached to her.
Menachem’s curiosity takes flight as he watches a dove tending to its chicks in a nest on a windowsill of the yeshiva he attends. While his fellow students listen intently to the teacher, he focuses his attention on the birds.
Ever restless, Menachem persuades his parents to take him on a day trip to the Dead Sea. When they reach their destination, they split up, Esther going to the women’s beach and Eidelman and Menachem repairing to the men’s section. Father and son enjoy the buoyancy of the salty water, and all seems well.
Later, as Eidelman chants afternoon prayers on a rocky outcropping, Menachem sneaks off. What happens next is traumatic. How can the Eidelmans reconcile their profound religious beliefs with tragic events on the ground? It’s a daunting test of their faith.
This quiet and affecting film unfolds languorously against the backdrop of moody classical music. The ensemble cast is just right, with Dayan, Bar and Griff turning in sensitive performances.
My Father My Lord is a simple film in terms of scope and development, but it leaves an unmistakable impression.