The 2019 Oscars race has already begun for one Israeli filmmaker.
Inés Moldavsky won the Golden Bear Best Short Film award at last month’s Berlin Film Festival for “The Men Behind the Wall,” which automatically makes her eligible for the best short documentary at next year’s Academy Awards.
Now she just needs to figure out the details.
“Do I have to send it to Hollywood or do they do it?” she asks. “I have completely forgotten what the jury told me about that,” adds the 30-year-old Tel Avivian, clearly still thrilled by her success even days after hearing the good news.
“It was just so overwhelming!” she recalls. “I absolutely did not expect this success. Look, I even went to the awards gala in my old jumper!”
“The Men Behind The Wall” was Moldavsky’s graduation project from the Screen-Based Arts Department at Jerusalem’s Bezalel – Academy of Arts and Design. The idea for the short seems simple, but her highly experimental documentary actually touches on a multitude of complex themes.
“Every morning, I woke up in my Jerusalem apartment and thought about what it would be like to target Palestinian men that live behind the wall for dates on my dating app,” Moldavsky explains, referring to the West Bank separation barrier.
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The 28-minute short shows the filmmaker soliciting Palestinian men in Gaza and the West Bank for BDSM sex via the dating apps Tinder and OkCupid, and then getting in touch with them on the phone and via Skype. It also documents their candid, explicit conversations about lust, hard-core sexual practices and the desire for casual dating.
These conversations highlight complicated gender dynamics, such as the constantly shifting power relations between men and women in general, and between Palestinian men and an Israeli woman in particular. Additionally, the phone conversations mirror on a personal and sexual level the broad political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians about boundaries, about oppression and aggression, and about who is the strong and who the weak – though it’s never clear who is who in the short film.
“I’ll do whatever you like,” the first man Moldavksy finds via the dating app says confidently. “But can you hold me forcibly and bang my head against the wall?” she asks. There is a short pause. “No, I won’t bang your head against the wall,” he responds, sounding almost aghast at the idea.
“Israelis and the rest of the world often see Palestinian men as the killers, the terrorists, the poor people – or, by contrast, as the victims, the sufferers that get their houses demolished, depending on your personal politics,” says Moldavsky. “But I wanted to show young Palestinians simply as men; as gentle, sexy, handsome, nice guys who think about the mundane things in life like sex and dating.”
But her film does far more than simply defy gender clichés or rehash the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eventually, the Jewish-Israeli Moldavksy uses her second (Argentine) passport to cross the border, visit several cities in the West Bank and meet in person with the men she found via the dating app.
“The most powerful and important theme in the film for me is the notion of the post-internet society and how social media affects our social interactions beyond physical borders,” Moldavksy says. “The dating app doesn’t recognize that there is a physical border between these men and me. All it recognizes is that we are physically close to each other and a good match. It drove me mad that places can be so close virtually and geographically, and yet so far.”
The topic of post-internet social structures is one Moldavsky might explore further in her next project, she says.
For now, with the prestigious award providing a tailwind, she hopes “The Men Behind The Wall” will be shown around Israel. For sure, it will reach international audiences thanks to the cachet of its Berlin Film Festival triumph.
It is exposure this Israeli documentary fully deserves, since it’s a thoroughly modern, thought-provoking short that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer long after its end credits have rolled.