(Air Date: Week Of 06/19/96)
I wasn't sure I was in the mood to see "Under the Domin Tree," a film about a group of children orphaned by the Haulocaust, and living together in an Israeli boarding school, kibbutz style, in the early 50's. This could be depressing, I thought. O.K, I did cry, but the tears were evoked more from the bravery of the orphans, and the support they give each other, than from the sadness inherent in their situation. Within the texture of day to day life in the kibbutz, where the kids welcome new arrivals, divvy up the chores, and argue about accepting war reparation payments, several stories with common themes are woven together in a straightforward, dramatic style, but with some softly ironic counterpoint.
One image repeating itself throughout the film is that of two of the boys running through the woods and howling, the younger one on the shoulders of the other. They had escaped a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, and then survived all alone in the forest for two years, and are described as having been like animals when they were finally discovered. One subplot involves a psychologist's attempts to separate them by sending the younger one to a special school, and the resistance to this idea by the other members of the kibbutz.
The older boy, Yurek, begins a romance with Aviya, who isn't technically an orphan of the holocaust since she was born in Israel, though she's still a casualty. Her mother, who was in Israel during the war, is now in a psychiatric ward, imagining herself to be a haulocaust survivor. Yurek remarks ironically that, while he is trying to forget the past, others are trying to make themselves a part of it. Another pair of stories offering an ironic counterpoint involves two opposite characters: the radiant and open-hearted Yola, who is elated to be told that her father has been discovered alive in Poland, and the sullen and unhappy Mira, who is appalled when a scary couple pretending to be her parents turn up at the kibbutz.
This film, which is the sequel to the 1988 film "The Summer of Aviya", is based on the autobiography of Israel's Queen of the Silver Screen, Gila Almodovar. She wrote the screenplay, and plays the role of her own mother in the psychiatric ward. This film, in Hebrew and Polish with English subtitles, offers powerful drama, an unusual glimpse of life, and a unique perspective on a historical moment. Most imporant, with its final image of the enduring dolmin tree, and newly planted tulips spring up in the desert, it gives an inspiring view of the human potential for survival and for generosity.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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