Moviegoers are likely to think about the Israeli film “Longing” (or as it’s known in Hebrew, “Ga’agua”), long after its bizarre last scene. The story begins when Ronit and Ariel, who were once lovers, meet for lunch after having no contact for 20 years. Impatient with Ariel’s small talk, Ronit blurts out that she was pregnant when they broke up and decided to have the baby. But that’s not the only surprise that writer-director Savi Gabizon has in store for the audience. Two weeks before that fateful lunch, Adam, Ronit and Ariel’s 19-year-old son, dies in a car accident.

Ariel, who never wanted to have children, surprisingly embraces his belated fatherhood. A lifelong bachelor who is financially successful, he decides to drive from Tel Aviv to Acre to attend Adam’s unveiling. Ariel is the only one there. Ronit is in the hospital with a severe lupus attack. There don’t seem to be any other family members or friends devoted enough to Adam to attend. Even the funeral was very small, remarks a cemetery worker.


The stage has been set for a series of strange and at times discomfiting encounters. Ariel decides to extend his stay in Acre to learn more about his son. He discovers delightful things about Adam, such as the fact that he loved to play Bach on the piano. He was in a band and also wrote poetry. But Adam also had a shadowy side. He was slightly disabled—one leg was two inches shorter than the other, which initially troubles Ariel. He was suspended from school for vandalizing a building with an obscene poem he wrote to his beautiful French teacher. Adam was also a drug dealer who was delivering hashish the night he died. And he left his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant.

Ariel bonds at the cemetery with another grieving father who tends his teenage daughter’s grave every day. The girl died by suicide and her father cannot shake the feeling that he is responsible for her death. As the two men drink wine, the movie takes an even more eccentric turn. They observe that their children died before they could experience life’s important milestones and decide to marry them in death to each other. It’s a Taoist tradition, and Ariel is anxious to convince Ronit that the wedding is a good idea. This dark comedy, in which grief and hope are entangled, ends as oddly as it begins.

“Memoir of War (La Douleur)”
“Memoir of War (La Douleur)”

Memoir of War” is a lightly fictionalized adaptation of French writer Marguerite Duras’ memoir of the same title. Published in 1985, the book mines material from Duras’ diaries during the war years. Duras and her husband, Robert Antelme, were part of the French Resistance during the World War II. Robert was betrayed and is deported to a series of concentration camps. Writer and director Emmanuel Finkiel’s two-hour film captures the minutia of the mourning process, as well as the creaking Nazi bureaucracy, often making it arduous to watch.

The first part of the movie is set in the final weeks of the German occupation of Paris. Duras, as played by the award-wining French actress Mélanie Thierry, is desperate to find Robert and is willing to strike up a dangerously flirtatious relationship with Rabier, the Nazi collaborator who arrested him. She pursues Rabier in the hopes that he will tell her Robert’s whereabouts. She agrees to meet him in various public spaces, but he tantalizes her with little or no information. At one point, Rabier tells Duras that Robert was betrayed by one of his comrades in the Resistance, leaving her paranoid about her friends.

The second half of the film takes place against the backdrop of Paris’ liberation. Duras’ waiting for Robert is onerous. During this purgatory, she takes in an elderly woman who is awaiting news of her daughter’s fate. Played by Shulamit Adar, an Israeli actress, the two women are opposites. Adar’s character, Madame Katz, is open and hopeful. The audience knows that she waits in vain for a disabled daughter, who was undoubtedly murdered early on in the war. The starkness between the two women is particularly poignant when Madame Katz hears that her daughter was gassed but refuses to believe it. She is determined to go home to Lyon thinking her daughter will likely look for her there.

While waiting for news about Robert, Duras also begins an affair with his best friend, Dionys. (In real life, Dionys became her second husband and the father of her child.) The affair is a jolt for an audience that has been pining for Robert along with Duras. As more prisoners of war and survivors of the Nazi death camps return, Robert’s survival seems unlikely.

Robert is eventually located in Dachau and has just days to live. His partisan friends, led by Dionys and a young François Mitterrand, pull off a daring rescue and return an essentially living corpse to Duras. Duras and Dionys nurse Robert back to partial health.

“Memoir of War” is a melancholy, grief-soaked meditation on how people carry on with their lives in the face of concessions made for love, humanity and basic survival.