Once I Entered a Garden

Pa’am Nikhnasti LaGan

- FRANCE, ISRAEL, SWITZERLAND / 2012 / Hebrew, Arabic / Color / Blu-ray / 97 min

Director, Script: Avi Mograbi
Script, Original Soundtrack: Noam Enbar
Photography: Philippe Bellaïche
Sound: Florian Eidenbenz
Editing: Rainer M. Trinkler, Avi Mograbi
Song: Dakhalt Marra Geneyna
Producers: Serge Lalou, Samir, Avi Mograbi
Production Companies: Les films d'ici, Avi Mograbi Films, Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion
World Sales: Doc & Film International www.docandfilm.com

Filmmaker Avi Mograbi looks deeply into the situation in Israel from various angles, reflecting upon his place of origin with his longtime Palestinian friend Ali Al-Azhari. Together they trace ways of life that are now at the mercy of politics. Their memories of a land that once coexisted without borders become even clearer when juxtaposed with some old love letters. The two men share a witty rapport that is interrupted by TV news of the Arab Spring, in this film full of reflection on the Middle East as it enters a period of turmoil.

[Director’s Statement] Originally I was planning to make a very different film. My father had a cousin who grew up in Beirut—he was a young man when the state of Israel was founded and Lebanon and Israel became enemy states. But this cousin perhaps did not understand the new situation properly and did not realize that the newly erected borders made movement between Beirut and Tel Aviv impossible. He continued relating to the Middle East as if it were still undivided. In the early 1950s he disappeared from Beirut, showed up in Tel Aviv and joined the Israeli military. After a few months he disappeared from the Israeli military and returned to his former life in Beirut, as if nothing had happened. A few years later, in the early 1960s he took another short trip to Tel Aviv and returned home.

I was amazed by this story of a person who did not accept or could not understand the irreversibility of these travels between enemy states. I was charmed by the idea of someone who does not accept the new rules, who grew up in an open Middle East and refuses to accept its division into enemy states.

So the idea for the film I called The Return to Beirut was to stage an imagined moment from the life of this cousin of my father as he wanders between two parts of his homeland now divided by borders. As the film was to be in Arabic, I decided to ask my Arabic teacher Ali Al-Azhari to collaborate with me on writing the script. But I had to tell him my family story first, and he in return told me his. So this is the film you’re watching now, my father’s cousin was lost on the way and we take, in his place, a journey across time in the divided Middle East.

- Avi Mograbi

Born in Israel in 1956, Avi Mograbi is a filmmaker and video artist. He studied philosophy at Tel Aviv University and art at the Ramat Hasharon Art School. After 1982 he worked as a first assistant director on local and foreign feature films and TV commercials. He directed his first film Deportation in 1989. He later went on to direct How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharon (1997), Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi (1999, YIDFF’99 Runner-up Prize in the International Competition), August (2002), which screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (2005), which screened at the Cannes Film Festival. His other films include At the Back (2000), Wait, It’s the Soldiers, I’ll Hang Up Now (2002), and Z32 (2008, YIDFF 2009 Award of Excellence in the International Competition).