Second Sight: 'The Summer of Aviya'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 10:16am

The Summer of Aviya

Israel came into being in 1948 - one year before the People's Republic of China was established - and its just under 8 million population is only slightly larger than Hong Kong's. For a country of its size and age, it has an exceedingly strong national cinema.

Equally fast maturing is the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival. Turning 13 this year, it is celebrating with a rounded programme of Jewish themes and expression, including one highlight that harkens back to Israel's early days.

The Summer of Aviya is a cinematic classic from 1988. Directed by Eli Cohen, the film tells the autobiographical story of one of the country's top actresses, Gila Almagor. As the festival's founder Howard Elias puts it, "she's the Meryl Streep of Israel".

Based on a book and play she authored, the story is set in 1951 with Almagor playing a mother single-handedly raising a 10-year-old daughter named Aviya in a small village in the newly formed state. She is a Holocaust survivor and the psychological scars still show.

The film picked up a Silver Bear at the 1989 Berlin International Film Festival and other honours, including for best director and actress at the Awards of the Israel Film Academy, but didn't receive a broader international release. The Summer of Aviya was one of the first films to seriously present the experience of displaced European Jews migrating to Israel. After the trauma of war, the newcomers faced a different kind of contempt, one not so different from what mainlanders feel in Hong Kong. Aviya and her mother are called partisanke, a slur not unlike "hick" or "locust". Yet there is little self-pity in Almagor's characters.

But there are knowing hints and signifiers unmistakable for any Jewish audience. In one scene, Aviya's head is shaved to be cleared of lice. "I know all about lice," the mother says, and we all know how she knows.

Andrew Sun

The Summer of Aviya, today, 1.15pm, AMC Pacific Place. Part of the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival programme