A Film a Week - The Fourth Window

 previously published on Cineuropa

There is no doubt that Amos Oz was one of the key figures of Israeli literature and also the country’s political life, not just because of his impressive output of literary works and newspaper columns, but also because of their quality in the sense of touching the young nation’s heart and asking all the right questions. Oz was already the subject of a documentary, Masha and Yonathan Zur’s Amos Oz: The Nature of Dreams (2009), and his works also got their own film adaptations (Natalie Portman’s 2015 directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on Oz’s memoir, being the best-known one). This time, Israeli documentarian Yair Qedar, who has considerable experience of directing biographical documentaries about literary figures, as demonstrated in his 2015 works The Awakening and Zelda: A Simple Woman, takes on the task of telling the complete story with The Fourth Window. The film premiered almost simultaneously internationally in the official selection of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival and on home turf in the national competition of Docaviv.

As stated near the start of the film, Oz’s life was influenced by two tragedies. One happened early on: his mother committed suicide when he was just 12. But the other one occurred just before his death, when his daughter Galia accused him of physical, emotional and mental abuse. The first tragedy is properly explained and leads to a conclusion: that it eventually turned a rebellious Jerusalem boy who did not fit in with the crowd into a writer whose topics revolved around families. Meanwhile, the second one is somehow under-explained, which could be seen as one of the film’s flaws, but given that Galia’s book Something Disguised as Love was published earlier this year, Qedar’s decision to avoid entering a tabloid conflict either for or against Oz was probably a smart choice.

In the meantime, we get to see and hear about the transformation of a boy into a man, a writer and a political activist, and about the social consciousness of Israel. We learn about his moving into a kibbutz, his life and literary beginnings there, his marriage to Nili, his political views evolving along the lines of left-wing Zionism and the application of these ideals in light of the conflicts with the neighbouring Arab nations. We also get to see a temporary fall from grace in the eyes of the public and his comeback, while his friend and biographer Nurith Gertz serves as our guide.

Granted, the phone conversations between Gertz and Oz accompanied by the visuals of a particular Tel Aviv street are the backbone of the film, but we also get to see the interviews with Gertz and other Israeli and global powerhouses in the domains of literature, publishing, journalism and culture, such as David Grossman, Etgar Keret, Nicole Krauss and Natalie Portman, among others. We hear the excerpts from his books read aloud by Dror Keren and set against the various archival footage, with Chris Marker’s Description of a Struggle (1960) being the most recognisable material.

Shot by a small army of cinematographers, with one single dynamic shot near the end of the film, and edited by Nili Feller, The Fourth Window is a well-crafted, respectful and highly informative film that better serves the existing fans of Oz’s literature and politics, while potential new ones might need more time to process the amount of the material they are presented with here.

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