Her marriage in crisis, director finds solace filming at Western Wall

Her marriage in crisis, director finds solace filming at Western Wall

Moran Ifergan’s documentary juxtaposes a personal story with larger events in Israeli society – as seen from the women’s section

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

A still from "The Wall" by Moran Ifergan. (Photo courtesy of Lev Cinemas)
A still from "The Wall" by Moran Ifergan. (Photo courtesy of Lev Cinemas)

After the birth of her first child several years ago, 35-year-old Moran Ifergan developed postpartum depression. Her husband at the time, celebrity chef Assaf Granit, was busy with his career and constantly traveling abroad. Her mother and sisters, hardworking blue-collar women, were in Beersheba, while she lived in Jerusalem, separated from them both by distance and by the class and cultural barriers she had crossed to become a feted documentary filmmaker.

In a seven-minute film, “Maternity Leave,” which was screened at MoMA in 2013, she described the months immediately following the birth of her son.

Documentary filmmaker Moran Ifergan (Facebook screenshot)

“I did not leave the house for an entire month… the exhaustion and claustrophobia made me crazy,” she related in the film. “I am not the same person I was. I wonder if it’s just me or if there is a female conspiracy of silence concerning birth and babies.”

What compounded Ifergan’s depression was the feeling that her husband, whom she would eventually divorce, was neither physically nor mentally present to notice or help her. It was in that state of mind that she began visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where she sat quietly and filmed. Her feeling of melancholy jibed well with the women who were praying, ruminating and seeking spiritual solace all around her.

Ifergan returned to the site many times over more than a year and filmed whatever she saw there: people praying, a rabbi delivering a Talmud lesson about unfaithful wives, a woman who sells red strings and blessings at the entrance to the plaza, army swearing-in ceremonies, mourners on Memorial Day.

The result is a funny, moving and entrancing one-hour documentary. While she was filming, Ifergan received phone calls from people in her life: her soon-to-be-ex-husband, her close friend, her mother and her sister. At some point, she realized she did not want merely to anthropologically film what was going on around her but to connect it to the crisis in her own life. She juxtaposed the soundtrack of the phone calls with the video of events at the Western Wall, thereby connecting national events and trends with her personal circumstances.

A still from ‘The Wall’ by Moran Ifergan. (Photo courtesy of Lev Cinemas)

In one scene, a pair of legs, presumably those of the director, walk resolutely across a stone pavement. We hear a recorded message from a caring friend, “Mori, my dear, I can’t stop thinking about you. You are not answering and I’m worried. In our last conversation you were too enthusiastic about that author who stuck her head in an oven, Virginia Woolf…ah, no, it was Sylvia Plath, sorry. I know how lonely it can be in Jerusalem. And all your depressing beliefs about the world, that life is hard and that all men cheat. It doesn’t have to be that way, sweetie. I want you to come to Tel Aviv, and see that the sun shines here. So what if you got married? You can change your mind and do things differently. In my family, if you don’t get married at least three times you’re really weird.”

As the recorded message ends, we see that the director has arrived at her destination, not sunny Tel Aviv, but the ancient Temple retaining wall whose cracks are filled with multicolored notes from worshipers.

In another scene, Moran’s husband calls her. She asks if he would like her to put a note in the wall for him. He dictates a prayer, “I wish that if possible Moran and Leo and I will be a loving family and that things will be good for us together. I wish that I will be sensitive enough to be a good father and that one day you will see me in a different light and love me again.” The director laughs lightly and puts the note in the wall. In the next scene, janitorial workers can be seen removing thousands of notes from the wall and putting them in a trash bag.

Much of the film features conversations between the filmmaker, her mother and her sister. The viewer never sees the women but merely hears their voices. Ifergan speaks with the accent and vocabulary of an upper-middle-class Israeli while her mother and sister speak like North African women from Israel’s periphery. Much of Ifergan’s work focuses on her Mizrahi background and the extent to which she, the daughter who moved away from the poor neighborhood and religion, has knowingly or unknowingly tried to “pass” for Ashkenazi. Ifergan’s mother finds her life choices incomprehensible, and while Ifergan clearly adores her family, the film highlights how she is navigating her way toward her own values.

“The Wall” won the best film award at the 2017 DocAviv Festival, where the judges described it as “a film that investigates the tension between what is expected of us and what we want in life. It’s a film about a woman, a family, gender roles and the ways in which cultural, moral and religious conditioning dictate our lives.”

It will show at Lev Cinemas throughout Israel starting on March 9.

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