Feminists in Focus: Blurring the Line Between Reality and Fantasy in the films of Michal Bat-Adam

Israeli actress, director and scriptwriter, Michal Bat-Adam, challenges our concepts of reality and fantasy by creating fine lines that delineate between the contemporary reality and memories of the past and between the actress’ real self and the role that she is playing. Bat-Adam has made ten Israeli feature films, all dealing with complex and intense relationships, unique friendships, and passionate loves of women, many of them personal films based on autobiographical elements.

In her most recent film, Maya, Bat-Adam takes a look at how an aspiring actress can become overly emotionally involved with her first role, to the point that it takes over her rational life and affects everything around her. Maya lands a major role in the theater, playing a young woman who goes crazy when her parents force her to have an abortion. The script of the play is written by the stage director, with whom Maya becomes involved. As Maya is becoming obsessively involved with her character, she goes to a mental hospital to learn more and she begins to see things in a radically different way from the director/scriptwriter/lover. Slowly, it becomes apparent that Maya can’t stop herself from actually becoming her character, and from interpreting her role in her own way.  

Michal Bat Adam says this film is about the struggle between the truth of two different perspectives. Although the scriptwriter/director sets the stage, the actress also has feelings and interpretations and experiences, and her perspective must be expressed.

However, as Maya becomes more and more drawn into her character, the viewer can experience the gray area between acting and reality.

Challenging Traditional Relationships
As the first Israeli woman to direct a feature film, Bat-Adam made her debut film, Moments, in 1979, a prize-winning film which expresses emotions and feelings cinematically rather than through the use of dialogue. Seen in flashback, the story is about a chance encounter between two women: Yola (Bat-Adam), a pensive young writer and Anne, a French tourist. Their meeting develops into a complex, intense relationship which includes a powerful love between two women, a love expressed not through physical contact, but rather through the sexual sharing of the same male partner.

In a passionate scene, Yola shares intimacy and expresses her love for Anne by sharing her lover. More a fantasy between metaphorical sisters than a three-way love affair, this triangular scene offended the sensitivities of the 1979 Israeli Censorship Board and had to be trimmed before its Israeli release. In today’s world, it wouldn’t have caused a stir!

A film of telling looks, self-absorption and silences, Moments challenges traditional relationships and portrays more “between the lines,” than up front on the screen. It is a story of metaphysical lesbian love.

Mother-Daughter Relationships
Two of Bat-Adam’s films, A Thin Line (1980) and Aya, Imagined Autobiography (1994), portray mother-daughter relationships, offering images of the Israeli/Jewish mother that have shifted from stereotypical portrayals of the overbearing and manipulative mother to rich characters grappling with difficult relationships. Bat-Adam has added more nuance and complexity to the classical stereotype (which originates in Yiddish and Hollywood films) of the Jewish mother.

A Thin Line, Bat-Adam’s second feature film, is a psychological study of a Tel Aviv woman with emotional problems. Similar to Moments in its emphasis on mood, feelings and facial expressions, A Thin Line is an autobiographical film which focuses on a mother’s dependency on her 11-year-old daughter who struggles to sustain her in times of need. The girl’s story is continued in Aya: Imagined Autobiography, a more profound look at the emotional turmoil of the girl’s life. Aya (Bat-Adam), now a grown woman haunted by memories of her past, is making a film about her own life. Moving between past and present, fantasy and reality, the film does not tell a story per se, but instead provides fragments from Aya’s life. “God exists in the little things,” says filmmaker Aya, as the film concludes and the pages of her script whirl in the wind around her. Similar to other Bat-Adam films, Aya is a highly touching personal document about relationships between mother and daughter, the hardships of young girls growing up, and the conflicts of mature women as they grapple with memories of their past.

Mixing the Past with the Present, Fantasy with Reality
In her film, Love at Second Sight, Bat-Adam uses autobiographical elements, and mixes the contemporary period with memories of the past — as she does in her other films. But here the subject matter is an obsession with love. The film portrays a woman who instead of analyzing and understanding her feelings, chooses to act upon her raw emotions.

The main character Nina is a photojournalist. One day as she is developing a photograph from her routine work, she discovers the image of a man who stirs her curiosity. As she sets out to find this man, he slowly takes over her life and Nina cannot stop herself from imagining him as her destiny.

In Bat-Adam’s Life is Life, a film about the meaning of life, Macky and Ayala are having an affair. But Macky, a writer and professor of literature, is using the affair as inspiration for one of his novels, thereby intertwining fact and fantasy. The two often meet at a small hotel in a quaint section of Tel Aviv (where the concierge is played in a cameo appearance by filmmaker Moshe Mizrachi – Bat-Adam’s life partner). Macky also brings his wife to the same hotel, thus blurring the lines between past and present. Many of the scenes take place on a bench, looking out towards the sea which is a metaphor for yearning for happiness and for looking beyond our small and circumscribed lives. The film includes a pointed look at two aging ladies – one is losing her hold on her son, the other is losing her grasp on reality.

The women in Michal Bat-Adam’s films are complex and emotional characters, portrayed on a background of heavily autobiographical elements, including dysfunctional family, memory and romance.

The feature films directed by Michal Bat-Adam are Moments (1979), A Thin Line (1980), Boy Meets Girl (1983), The Lover (1986), A Thousand and One Wives (1989), The Deserter’s Wife (1992), Aya: An Imagined Autobiography (1994), Love at Second Sight (1998), Life is Life (2003) and Maya (2010).

–Amy Kronish

One comment on “Feminists in Focus: Blurring the Line Between Reality and Fantasy in the films of Michal Bat-Adam

  1. claire-lise gaudichon on

    Je cherche les coordonnées mail de Michal Bat-Adam que nous avons reçue au Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil.
    Pouvez vous me les donner ?
    Merci par avance
    Claire-Lise Gaudichon
    Responsable de l’accueil des invitées

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