THE CEMETERY CLUB (Tali Shemesh). 90 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (July 20). Rating: NN
Filmmaker Tali Shemesh set out to film a feisty group of Holocaust survivors who have met weekly for almost 20 years to keep each other company and debate politics and culture in Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery. But she doesn't focus on the group.
Instead, she gets caught up with her great-aunt Lena and grandmother Minya , filming them mainly outside the group meetings. Lena is sharp-witted, bossy and opinionated, and starts the film off by emphatically explaining why Shemesh's choice of title is wrong and should be rejected.
Why Shemesh sticks to her guns is never clear. And her arm-wrestle between documenting the group on the one hand and her relatives on the other, in scenes that don't stack up, quickly loses momentum. There's no insight into other group members, and little time is spent on group dynamics.
Still, some vérité moments are brilliant. When Lena recalls her severe hunger during the war, the memory triggers a panicked need to eat something right on the spot.
And compositions are mostly lovely, including a refreshing break from the weaving camera work that captures Lena and Minya in stillness at the seashore, their chairs hip-deep in the water.
Overall, Lena gets it right when she challenges the filmmaker about what she wants of her. Shemesh, who answers unclearly, reveals that she doesn't know.