The Man Who Spoke Israeli

Assi Dayan's biography begs to be seen as a parable for the State of Israel, but he never sought to represent anyone but himself.

Assi Dayan.
Assi Dayan would have loved the scene of his funeral Sunday. Daniel Tchetchik

Assi Dayan, who died on Thursday at his home in Tel Aviv at the age of 68, left behind not only an epic life story of self-destruction, entanglements with the law and gossipy anecdotes, but above all, a rare body of creative work. As a productive and diverse filmmaker, he was the creator of cult films, popular comedies, dark political satires and surrealist movies. What linked the sands of Halfon Hill to the gloomy bar of “Life According to Agfa” was a feverish brain that never ceased to think, innovate, provoke and run wild.

The answer to the question of whether there exists an original Israeli culture would seem to be Assi Dayan. As a filmmaker, Dayan knew the European classics and was influenced by them, but his films were local − they spoke to Israelis in “Israeli.” In “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer,” he updated the tracker’s lexicon and inserted slang terms into the Hebrew language that are still in use. In “Life According to Agfa” he depicted the State of Israel as an insane asylum with a tragic end.

His newspaper columns were written in an unrestrained, liberated Hebrew that wasn’t the norm at that time. He thereby took part in creating a new identity that severed itself from its Diaspora roots and was no longer obligated to Jewish tradition. It’s no wonder he was tapped in so many different films to play roles representing the figure of the Sabra.

Dayan’s biography begs to be seen as a parable for the State of Israel. A talented young man, handsome and promising (Uri in “He Walked through the Fields”), a scion of the Dayan aristocracy from the Jezreel Valley who over the years got embroiled in trouble and arguments, deteriorated psychologically and physically, and finally broke under the yoke of the “Dayan” promise and the personal demons that pursued him.

But Dayan never sought to represent anyone but himself. He was an individual, a nonconformist who never missed an opportunity to rebel and go his own way. Dayan committed metaphoric patricide against his admired father, Moshe Dayan, and always enjoyed poking the establishment in his witty fashion. He loathed inauthentic collectivism and refused to stick to the straight and narrow path. While everyone else was walking through the fields, he walked his own road.