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Horniness Meets Horror in Stalags

Doc explores Israel's Holocaust s&m lit. Also, Tehilim gets lost in Jerusalem.

Rosen's 20th-century Lilith articulates what Europeans called the Jewish Question (as well as the Woman Question) in the most explicit way imaginable. In a final conundrum, the filmmaker, who narrates in the guise of a female academic, accuses opportunistic Rosen of ripping off Frank. She was the authentic artist; he is bogus.


Israel is truly the place where mirages take on world-historical force. Raphaël Nadjari's low-key philosophical thriller Tehilim, playing this week at MOMA, places its action "somewhere in Jerusalem today" and begins with a Talmudic disquisition on how to pray toward the Western Wall if one is blind or disoriented or lost in the desert.

Heymann Brothers Films/Film Forum

Details

Stalags
Directed by Ari Libsker
April 9 through 22, Film Forum

Tehilim
Directed by Raphael Nadjari
April 10 through 16, MOMA

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"Lost" is the operative word; praying is but one option. Fifteen minutes into the movie, a man sets out to take his two young sons to school. He drives off the road, staging a desultory single-car accident, sends the older boy off for help, and vanishes. Tehilim concerns his abandoned family's response to this inexplicable and ultimately existential disappearance. It's a variation on Antonioni's L'Avventura, in which the mystery is a given and the emphasis is on those left mystified.

Made on New York's Lower East Side, Nadjari's 2001 Super-8 production I Am Josh Polonski's Brother was a kindred (if somewhat more sensational) metaphysical thriller with a similar vérité feel. Indifferently shot and only competently acted, Tehilim derives its emotional force from the inchoate spiritual torment that the older son suffers. While he engages in magical thinking, his more practical mother must cope with the bureaucratic implications of a missing husband. Studying these goings-on, the younger boy is doubly mystified.

Given its title—Hebrew for "The Book of Psalms"—and its religious milieu, one might reasonably expect Tehilim to be an allegory. But reason has nothing to do with the anti-miracle of the father's disappearance. Prayer is only one of the ways that the confounded characters deal with this enigma; faith, the final shot suggests, is something akin to waiting for the bus in the hopes that it will finally come.

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