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From Language to Language(Misafa Lesafa)
A Film by Nurith Aviv
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"You don't speak a mother tongue, it flows out of you. With an acquired language, you must constantly be on your guard. Sometimes I wake up with the fear that the Hebrew I learned at such great pains would fade away and vanish." - Aharon Appelfeld

For centuries, Hebrew was a sacred language, a written language of prayer and scripture. But today it is also the language of everyday life in Israel. In FROM LANGUAGE TO LANGUAGE filmmaker Nurith Aviv, Israeli writers, musicians, actors and a Rabbi/philosopher from varying countries and ethnic backgrounds discuss the relationship between their mother tongues and Hebrew.

Aviv introduces the theme by relating her childhood confusion over which was her true language-the German spoken at home by her immigrant parents, or the Hebrew spoken on the street and at school.

Most of these authors, poets, songwriters, and scholars came to Israel decades ago with their families, and as immigrants they lived with at least two languages. In the process of learning Hebrew, however, they also had to decide whether or not to retain the language of their childhood-whether, in short, to forget their cultural past or to somehow integrate it within their new Israeli identity.

FROM LANGUAGE TO LANGUAGE introduces Aharon Appelfeld, acclaimed for his literary explorations of the Holocaust; actress Evgenya Dodina; Rabbi and philosopher Daniel Epstein; poet Salman Masalha; poet and translator Agi Mishol; singer Amal Murkus; poet and Professor of Jewish Thought Haviva Pedaya; and Meir Wieseltier, a member of the early Sixties "Tel Aviv Poets" group.

The film's wide-ranging discussions, which explore language as the "soul and spirit" of life, feature many illuminating anecdotes. In discussing the initial difficulty of learning this ancient language, Appelfeld likens it to "shoveling gravel into your mouth." Wieseltier explains that in order to write in Hebrew, he felt he "must kill Russian, eliminate it, because it stood in my way." Although speaking Hebrew in her stage and screen performances, Dodina acknowledges that at home with her daughter she insists on speaking only Russian. Mishol discusses the periodic reemergence of one's native tongue, relating how, after the death of her father, she found herself "grieving in Hungarian." And Pedaya suggests that learning Hebrew from her Arab grandfather enabled her to avoid the "Zionist sediment" of Hebrew.

Once considered solely the property of Jews, FROM LANGUAGE TO LANGUAGE makes it clear that today Hebrew belongs to anyone who speaks and writes it.

"Full of poetry, tolerance and finesse... Wonderful!"—Al Jadid, A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts

"[The film has] important lessons to offer about history, language [and] individual courage. Israeli writers, musicians and dancers of an impressively disparate set of backgrounds... are compulsively articulate and their ambivalence towards the language they have adopted or had imposed upon them is palpable throughout. Aviv is to be congratulated for making a film that deliberately raises more issues than it can resolve."—The Jewish Week

"The film investigates Israeli sociological reality, but it also succeeds in broaching a more universal problematic, that of uprooting, of links, of forgetting and of handing down."—Positif: Monthly Review of Cinema

"Between the language of pictures and the language of words, a statement is made that is simultaneously universal and Israeli. The power of the film partly stems from the meticulous selection of figures and places, cultural sensitivity and aesthetic discipline."—Ha'aretz

"A poignant film."—Le Monde

"Highly Recommended!"—Educational Media Reviews Online

2005 New York Jewish Film Festival
Best Film, 2004 DocAviv Intl Documentary Festival
2004 Visions du Réel, Nyon (mars 2004)
2004 Munich Documentary Film Festival
2004 Marseille Documentary Film Festival

56 minutes / color
Release: 2005
Copyright: 2004
Sale: $348

Subject areas:
Hebrew, Israel, Jewish Film Festivals, Jewish Studies, Language, Linguistics, Literature, Psychology

Related Links:
Excerpts and Biographies from Key Figures

Filmmaker's page

Related Titles:
Out of Place: Traces the life and work of Edward Said (1935-2003), the Palestinian-born intellectual who wrote widely on history, literature, music, philosophy and politics.

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