|Directed by:||David Deri||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||65 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Wikipedia; Resources for LGBT Jews||Category:||Israel|
A deeply personal documentary, Say Amen explores what it means to be gay in an Orthodox, procreation-driven family. David is the youngest of ten close-knit, Moroccan-Israeli siblings with very religious, culturally-conservative parents. While the other nine Deri children have all extended the family tree by marrying and having kids of their own, David, at twenty-nine, still hasn’t brought home a girlfriend, inspiring his family to constant nagging. This confessional film follows David as he takes small steps, slowly gathering courage, to ask for acceptance from the people whom he’s closest.
The film emphasizes the importance of traditional family order to the Deri family throughout. One scene in particular, of David’s mother lighting the Sabbath candles, leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. As she prays in a hushed tone over her candles, her prayers reveal her gravest worries: “Save them from bombings and traffic accidents,” she prays for her children, and “grant them all a wife.”
Set in Deri’s hometown of Tel Aviv, Say Amen explores the varying ideas about homosexuality that coexist in Israel today. In the Bible, the book of Leviticus describes homosexuality as an “abomination” that’s punishable by death. But today there’s a growing sympathy within Judaism towards homosexuality. Regardless of certain Jewish factions’ tolerance, however, Orthodox Judaism generally prohibits homosexual conduct — often viewing it with disdain and even disgust.
Although David is brave enough to share his struggles, for the most part, he’s still unable to step out from behind the camera. His constant filming irritates his family, but works to the documentary’s advantage. By turning the lens away from himself, David completely avoids self-indulgent emotionality or melodrama, instead maintaining a certain sense of objectivity through his own struggles. This technique also allows the viewer to see the world through David’s eyes — the frustrated looks, the sad sighs, and the lectures are all addressed to the camera, making it easy for the viewer to imagine how David must feel.
The importance of family to the Deris clearly has not been lost on David. In between serious conversations, the documentary captures ordinary moments the Deri family spends together. It’s obvious that the members of this large family are emotionally invested in each other and care a great deal about one another. Together, they celebrate a grandchild’s birthday; little kids climb all over the couch on which their mother is reclining; and a brief scene finds David dancing with his mother in the kitchen. In stark contrast to this togetherness, David’s isolating secret appears all the more painful.
Everyone in David’s family says they want what’s best for him, but their idea of what that is differs from his own. One of David’s brothers tries to explain to him the mistake he believes David to be making, saying, “You’re giving up your life for love.” The way his brother sees it, if David took up a traditional life, he would love his children, his career, his friends, and he could still have a platonic love for his wife.
David responds to his brother by simply saying, “You haven’t seen enough movies.” In movies, he suggests, it’s admirable when the protagonist risks everything for love. Thus, David reveals his true motive for making this film. By turning his own struggles for love and acceptance – romantic and familial – into a movie, David casts himself as an unlikely hero – one who won’t step in front of the camera – so that even if his family isn’t rooting for him, the audience will be.