Tribeca Film Award Winner: My Father, My Lord


volach.jpgIf you can believe (and why shouldn't you?), David Volach, 37, is one of 19 children born to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. His folks obviously took the Lord's commandment, "Be fruitful and multiply!" much too seriously.

Raised in a Haredic community in Jerusalem, Volach studied in the Ponevezh yeshiva, said to be one of the most renowned Talmudic yeshivas. But then at 25, he moved to Tel-Aviv and became a film student.

A wise choice.

So wise, in fact, that Volach's first feature just won the top prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, The Founders Award for best narrative feature. This citation comes with $50,000 and a piece of artwork by celebrated landscape painter Stephen Hannock.

Better news is that this magnificent exploration of an orthodox Jewish family, one inspired in both style and content by the director's love for the fastidious work of Krzysztof Kieslowski, deserves the honor. My Father, My Lord will no doubt rise to the top of many a critic's best-film-of-the-year list – that is, of course, if it garners an American distributor.

The simple tale is based upon interrelationships forged amongst the rabbi (Assi Dayan), his wife (Sharon Hacohen Bar), their only child Menachem (Elan Griff), and God.

Not unlike the original Abraham, this rabbi, who's also named Abraham, seemingly would sacrifice his son for his Lord. He prays from morning to night, oblivious to Menachem falling asleep at his side at a table at home or on a pew at the synagogue. Abraham loves the boy and he loves his wife, but his adoration doesn't stop him from being oblivious to their needs.

They, however, are not inattentive to the rabbi's needs. Both mother and son accept their secondary roles, no matter how painful it is to do so.

In fact, the good rabbi seldom connects with Menachem except when the boy asks or does something which conflicts with the teachings of the Torah.

"Do animals have souls?" Menachem asks. "Of course not" is the gruff reply he's greeted with.

And when Menachem brings home from school a treasured photo of African tribesmen, he's forced to tearfully tear it up because the snapshot represents the practice of idolatry.

How? Why? It doesn't matter. One doesn't question the Torah. But shouldn't one?

Slowly, the unrelenting tension between the boy's innocence and the father's piety builds up until the family eventually goes on a summer vacation, and a tragedy occurs, one that will shake you to the core.

Thanks to the brilliant, dramatically in-focus direction, the superb acting, and the flawless cinematography, My Lord, My Father captivates from its very opening shots of the troubled rabbi's face.

Not unlike Amos Gitai's Kadosh (1999), this is a saga of how an unconscious misinterpretation of religion can disintegrate a family instead of enhancing its life experience.

Now, to state the obvious, in the end not every movie has to matter, but when one does, it's a time for a celebration. This is one of those times. Brandon Judell

brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.