The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inspired both documentary and narrative movies, but none is more imaginative than Wrestling Jerusalem. This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36) will host Wrestling Jerusalem’s world premiere.
Wrestling Jerusalem is a one-man play written and performed by Aaron Davidman, who creates seventeen different characters, both Jews and Arabs, who each relate their own experiences of the conflict. Davidman portrays his characters without benefit of costume; he varies the accents, but mostly we can tell the characters apart from the content of their stories. Davidman’s performance is vivid and startlingly personal.
Davidman launches Wrestling Jerusalem with a montage of his characters explaining “It’s complicated” – a defining truth that most would accept. Then the characters continue by disagreeing about the conflict’s start (1946, 1947, 1967, 1973, the Hebron massacre – both of the massacres) and who is to blame for its continuation (Abbas, the settlers, the Orthodox, the terror attacks, Bibi, etc.). Then each character unspools his or her own perspective. Over a crisp 90 minutes, it’s absorbing stuff.
Thankfully, with one just guy on-screen for the entire film, the filmmakers keep Wrestling Jerusalem from being too stagey. They place Davidman in two locations, a solitary theatrical stage and in the desert (looks like Israel/Palestine, but it’s the California Mojave). It’s an impressive job by director Dylan Kussman, editor Erik C. Andersen and cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker.
Davidman has a point of view, but was careful not to make Wrestling Jerusalem into a screed. Instead, he’s careful to let his audience connect the dots in our own minds. Near the end, one of his characters says, “You are Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men” from Genesis 32:28, but does not does not finish the quote with “and have prevailed”.
You can experience Wrestling Jerusalem at its world premiere at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 27, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 30, at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 28 and at the Rafael in San Rafael on August 7