‘Gei Oni’ based on a book by Shulamit Lapid and directed by Israeli veteran Dan Wolman is the kind of epic story from the beginnings of the Zionist endeavor in Palestine at the end of the 19th century that includes elements that are well known to most Israelis, but may be very little known or known from a very different perspective outside Israel. It tells the story of a young woman named Fania, a survivor of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia who arrives with no possessions and a baby-girl in her arms in the strange and hostile environment of a new country, where small groups of Jewish immigrants were just starting to return to their ancestral homeland to find it very different from the promised land dreams and hopes.  She marries a widower of Syrian-Jewish origin and moves to a small settlement near Safed, were the immigrants are facing drought, arid land and the hostility of the Arab neighbors living in the area for centuries prior to their arrival. It is a tough pioneering story combined with the personal drama of Fania and the very difficult building of her relationship with her husband Yechiel.

source wolmandan.com

From one of the few critical reviews already published about the film I read that it is designed as a TV mini-series of six episodes out of which a less than two hours version was cut for the big screens. This can be felt in the version that I saw which is focusing on the personal drama and leaves of the screen the development of most of the supporting characters. The result looks somehow unbalanced as long scenes follow the personal endeavors of the main characters without adding much each to the other, while side characters which we guess have each their interesting story to be told (Fania’s brother, the Poet, the Arab girl) are being just sketched. I could feel that Wolman has enough experience to tell a story but I would have liked more daring and originality in the dialogs, some of them seeming to be taken out of history text books. Overall the film succeeds in bringing up the landscape of the period with beautiful exteriors that catch a Galilee just starting to be modeled by the human presence and costumes carefully crafted for authenticity. Acting is low-tone most of the time, growing in intensity only in the key scene towards the end which is really moving. Besides Tamar Alkan and Zion Ashkenazi in the lead roles I especially enjoyed the supporting part of Yidish-speaking actor Yaakov Bodo as Fania’s uncle.

(video source IFFPhiladelphia)

More details about the film can be learned from the Web site of the director http://wolmandan.com/ and from the beautiful Web site created especially for the film http://www.geioni.com/. From the director’s Web site I learned also interesting details about the distribution. According to what is written there the big distributions companies refused to distribute Wolman’s film or put conditions that he could not accept. As a result he chose to give up PR and other commercial distribution methods and make the film available himself, using the Internet and the Web sites as PR engines. Apparently the tactics worked and I am happy to hear about yet another way to use the Internet for good purposes.