The flow of history accelerates, slows down, and turns back on itself in the course of David Perlov’s six-hour Diary 1973–1983, a landmark Israeli film having its first-ever New York screening this Sunday at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Perlov (1930–2003), a key figure in the creation of Israeli film culture, both as a teacher (having co-founded Tel Aviv University’s Film and Television program) and as the maker of distinctively personal documentaries, was a cine-diarist in the peripatetic, self-analytic tradition of Jonas Mekas, as well as a precedent for his compatriot first-person chronicler Ron Havilio. Born in Brazil to a family of immigrants from Palestine, Perlov, the son of a stage magician, spent most of the 1950s in Paris (at one point working as a projectionist at the Cinémathèque Française) before relocating to an Israeli kibbutz. There’s a roundabout aspect to his magnum opus—which he began once he felt himself shut out of the Israeli film establishment—but a straight line runs through it, covering Israeli history between two traumas, from the eve of the Yom Kippur War through the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and its aftermath.
A meandering stream of consciousness that mixes daily life with historical events (Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem, the protests following the massacres at Sabra and Shatila) while freely associating on the director’s past life and aesthetic inklings, Perlov’s self-annotated footage is at once spontaneous and ruminative. The filmmaker documents his wife and twin daughters at home and, frequently looking down from his window, records history as it occurs in the streets. Simultaneously cosmopolitan and displaced, Perlov is both a fastidious observer of the urban scene—much of Diary is a tale of two cities, Tel Aviv and Paris—as well as a detached reporter on his own mental state, his bemused comments and sardonic deliberations continually drawing attention to his project as an ongoing counter-life.
Enlivened by meetings with kindred spirits (filmmakers Joris Ivens, his one-time mentor, and Claude Lanzmann; writers Irving Howe and André Schwarz-Bart; a surprisingly affable Klaus Kinski), Diary’s six 55-minute episodes have a remarkable cumulative effect. While Part 1 encompasses five years (1973 to 1977), each subsequent segment covers a shorter period to end in a haunting final section spanning three months in 1983. The last hour is a return to Perlov’s childhood cities, São Paulo and Rio, materializing his recurring memories of a lost tropical Eden while bringing his whole project full-circle.
David Perlov’s ‘Diary 1973–1983’ screens in its entirety Sunday, March 6, at 2 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image