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VENICE 2015 Orizzonti

Mountain: A question of choosing sides


- VENICE 2015: Space – how it can unite and how it separates – is central to the state of Israel and is at the core of Yaelle Kayam's feature debut, premiering in the Orizzonti competition

Mountain: A question of choosing sides
Shani Klein in Mountain

Mountain [+see also:
interview: Yaelle Kayam
film profile
is the debut film by Israeli director and screenwriter Yaelle Kayam, screened in the Venice Film Festival's Orizzonti section. Whereas its title is general and vague, the actual setting of the film is more than burdened with history: the Mount of Olives, outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, where Islam, Christianity and Judaism come together in one place, Kayam has set her tale of Tzvia (Shani Klein), an orthodox Jewish woman who lives with her husband, Reuven, and their children on the grounds of the oldest active Jewish cemetery. The mountain introduces her to another world – but one day she is forced to choose sides.

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The routine of the everyday is highlighted by the images and the editing, with identical shots of Tzvia waking up in bed. She stretches out her arm looking for her husband, only to find him completely immersed in his praying. And so the daily rhythm continues – until one night, when she witnesses a sexual scene among the tombstones. Starting out as a voyeur, she gets drawn into this realm of prostitutes and spends her nights amidst them, testing the boundaries of her orthodox lifestyle. She partakes in both worlds as long as they do not meet, but when one night one of the men from the nightly orgies follows her to her house, she has to choose and is driven to extreme measures.

The theme of spatial separation is dominant in Kayam's Mountain. It is first introduced in a scene at the family dinner table: referring to a passage in the Book of Zechariah in which the Mount of Olives will split in two, one of the daughters asks on which side their house will be. The parents answer that they will only know then, at that very moment – a crucial question in the development of the film which remains unanswered. On which side the film stands remains just as much of a mystery. While the images succeed in poetically capturing the signification of space, the abstractness of the tale at some points simply leads one to wonder – or wander.

Kayam says about her work that she is “interested in exploring characters through the use of landscape, and placing them in extreme settings that both limit them and enable their transformation”. And so she does, by using the cultural site of the Mount of Olives. Everyone is trying to find something else in this place, each with a different perception. The transformation therefore happens within the orthodox woman, but as she descends from the mountain, like a Messiah, it is not clear whether it is for better or worse. The mountain has been split in two, but who is on which side?

Mountain, co-produced by Israel and Danemark, is sold internationally by French sales agent Films Distribution.

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