The Testament: In search of the absolute truth
by Vassilis Economou
- VENICE 2017: Israeli director Amichai Greenberg delivers a Holocaust-related, close-knit thriller that becomes more universal, as everyone needs to find out where the truth lies
Having forged a career spanning 15 years, in writing, directing and producing, mostly concentrating on TV productions in his homeland and abroad, Israel’s Amichai Greenberg is no stranger to the festival circuit. Two years ago, his medium-length title Vice Versa travelled far and wide, attending many, mainly Jewish-focused, international film festivals. This year, his debut feature, The Testament [+see also:
interview: Amichai Greenberg
film profile], is taking part in the Orizzonti competition of the 74th Venice International Film Festival.
On the night of 24-25 March 1945, about 200 Jewish forced labourers were murdered in the fields of Lendsdorf, a village in Austria. Apparently, there were no witnesses to the massacre, and the exact location of their mass grave remains unknown. The local government wants to sweep it under the carpet by renovating the entire area. Yoel Halberstam (Ori Pfeffer) is a historian, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Holocaust Institute and an Orthodox Jew. He is trying to delve further into this massacre and uncover all of the hidden evidence that no one is willing to divulge. During his meticulous research, he comes across a classified testimony made by his mother, which he did not previously know about. According to her testament, her identity is not the same as the one that everyone knows. Yoel must search for the truth, but at the same time, he is trapped in his own personal dilemma.
Starting from the premise of another film that deals with the issue of the Holocaust, Greenberg, who also wrote the screenplay, creates a close-knit thriller where drama is always overcome by mystery. His main hero, Yoel, is not a typical modern Jew, as his religion, his traditions and, more importantly, his family always come before his personal needs. He is a conservative man who theoretically can’t accept any challenges in his life, but he is ready to sacrifice a part of himself, maybe the part that identifies him most strongly, just to serve the greater good and the truth. Indeed, the absolute truth forms the basis of his life. On a professional level, he focuses on finding the truth behind the facts, and his religion requires him to believe in one absolute, true God. Despite the consequences, he must either accept or reject this truth.
This perfect anti-hero is the core of The Testament; he is someone who sees everything around him collapsing, but he follows his path silently in order to remain faithful to his professional and religious integrity. It is a constant balance that he has to strike and maintain as the two worlds coexist and surround him. Jerusalem is modern, secular, austere, noisy and progressive, in line with the aesthetics and the people of the institute, but it is simultaneously claustrophobic, damaged, conventional, quiet and outmoded, much like the Orthodox neighbourhoods where the hero lives. These are two sides of the same Israeli society, which usually have nothing in common apart from their collective historical memory. This is their unique reference point for the past and for the future, and Yoel believes that this should be preserved over and above anything else.
The Testament is an Israeli-Austrian co-production by Yoav Roeh, Aurit Zamir (Gum Films), Sabine Moser and Oliver Neumann (Freibeuter Film), and was supported by the Jerusalem Film Fund, the Israel Film Fund and the Austrian Film Institute. The world sales are handled by Italian company Intramovies.
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