Saturday, February 17, 2007

"sweet mud" wins european film prize

"Sweet Mud," an Israeli movie about the disintegration of a kibbutz woman in the mid-1970s, has been awarded the Crystal Bear prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. The prize is awarded to the best film as selected by a panel of seven young people, presumably because of its emphasis on the psychodrama involving the reaction of the woman's teenage son (Dvir) to his mother (Miri's) collapse in the later stages of the film. The same movie won another award for World Cinema at the Sundance Festival a little while ago.

"Sweet Mud" is a more or less deliberate mistranslation of "Adama Meshuga'at," or crazy earth, which gives a much better idea of what the film is about. On the surface yet another film about the alleged emptiness and conformity of kibbutz life--the story opens with a kibbutz veteran performing an indecent act with a cow--"Sweet Mud" draws its power from the ambiguity of the woman and her son's situation and the sense that, perhaps, her insanity is the only sane response to a world that will not allow her to pursue love and decency in a normal, adult way. In this context the film's Hebrew title--crazy earth, not crazy woman--is revealing: is there really anything wrong with Miri, or has life in this desolate outpost made her so? That Dvir ultimately takes her advice--"ha kibbutz hazeh hu mavet," this kibbutz is death, you must leave it as soon as you can--only adds to the mystery.

I saw Sweet Mud, sorry, Adama Meshuga'at in Tel Aviv one week after Borat, which has, well, a someone different appeal. The highlight here was noticing that everyone was laughing at things that appeared to be spoken in Kazakh when there were no Hebrew subtitles on the screen. The obvious answer--that Sasha Baron Cohen actually speaks in a sort of accented Hebrew when pretending to speak his native language--came to me only in mid-film, at which point I began laughing so continuously that I honestly don't remember the second half of the movie. One critic noticed that Cohen makes several grammatical mistakes, saying that he will marry to instead of with Pamela Anderson, whom he tries to place in a large sack as part of a supposed Kazakh wedding tradition. I don't think that's what the people were laughing at.


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