Review: My Project X
- A woman revisits her own filmed interviews with criminals in order to finally understand and deal with the damage she suffered, in Limor Pinhasov’s captivating documentary
Serial killers are often the subject of people's professional curiosity, or some hobby- or trivia-like morbid fascination - even obsession. In the case of Michal Wells, born Ben Horin, the protagonist of Limor Pinhasov’s documentary My Project X, the obsession with that character profile is not professional, and nor can it be described as curiosity or fascination; rather, it's deeply personal. For her, they are the gateway to trying to understand someone who hurt her and abused her – her own stepfather, Mordechai “Motke” Kedar, the notorious killer and convict known as “Prisoner X”. The film premiered in the national competition of Docaviv, where it also won the Special Jury Prize.
A good part of Pinhasov’s work is based on Wells’ own footage of prison-set interviews with Charles Manson, whose cult caused havoc in 1960s California; Richard Ramirez, known as The Night Stalker, who raped and murdered more than 15 women; and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the former member of Manson’s gang who attempted to assassinate US president Gerald Ford. In them, they share their theories of what was wrong with society and which circumstances contributed to them following their deviant path, but they never express any guilt or remorse. Michal revisits the footage and comments on it both academically and personally.
The other part of the documentary deals with Motke Kedar’s biography, from his humble beginnings in the town of Kadera, his life as a gang leader, his involvement in a money-truck heist, and the murder of a taxi driver, for which he was incarcerated for the first time. But instead of serving time, he got enlisted in the training programme of the Military Intelligence Directorate Unit 131. The Secret Service thought it could “tame the tiger” and use Kedar’s physical, intellectual and murderous skills for covert operations. However, on his mission in Buenos Aires, he killed and robbed his informant. Once back in Israel, he was convicted to 17 years of solitary confinement, after which he became something of a cult figure on the Tel Aviv bohemian scene for his chess-playing chops, his quoting of philosophers and his interpreting skills. Then he met Michal’s widowed mother, Tamar, uprooted the family and moved to California.
There, Michal’s calvary started, with emotional abuse disguised as homeschooling and rape masked as sexual education. Like all three criminals who are interviewed, Motke might seem smart, charismatic and eloquent, but ultimately, he was manipulative and deranged, and his deeds definitely left her with painful scars. Michal’s journey might seem somewhat futile in the end, since there is no simple closure, but we can understand her need to ask the killers the same questions she could not ask her stepfather.
For us, in the safe and comfortable position of viewers, this voyage is nothing less than fascinating. With Michal as our guide and Limor Pinhasov as the director, who uses Shauli Melamed’s dynamic editing together of many different types of footage, and Didi Erez’s always-fitting moody soundtrack, it is simply riveting. The problems sometimes occur with the newly filmed re-enactment scenes, which might have been the only way to recount some things, but never feel as real as the rest of the footage, especially that stemming from the archives. Luckily, these parts are not tasteless and do not spoil the sincerity of the colossal emotional journey that is My Project X.
My Project X is an Israeli production by Cicero Films.
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