Film Text: An Unusual Summer

Film Text: An Unusual Summer

An Unusual Summer

Letters by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz and Kamal Aljafari

Dear Kamal,

I am happy that Nic asked me to write to you about An Unusual Summer. I have seen many films in 2020, but few have seemed to move cinema forward like yours. I will take a risk and tell you a few things I felt watching it. Did I understand you correctly? I cannot know, of course. But I am very curious to read your thoughts.

First let me speak about my experience of time in your film. In your very first shot we see your father getting into his car and driving away. But it is in reverse. We hear the voice of a little girl (later we will learn she is your niece) saying, “This happened a long, long, time ago.” This intro prompted me to pay attention to time. And, as the film continued, I in fact felt that I was moving through different periods of time. There is the summer of 2006; the present; your childhood; and there is even 1948 (which I thought of, for the first time, when your home cast its unfinished shadow on the street). It was not only the movement between different periods of time, that I found special, but also how time flows in the film. Sometimes it flows fast, sometimes it flows backward, and often it will slow down to allow us to look at the details. Did you want us to pay attention to time in these ways? What role did time play for you?

The richness of time was accompanied by the multitude of voices that are telling me this story. And again, as with the flow of time, I was taken with how you created many different voices with such modest cinematic means. There is your (unheard) voice and the (heard) voice of your niece, but reading the intertitles and connecting them to the images, I felt I was hearing many other voices—voices from the family and from the neighborhood. Was this your intention? Can you tell me more about the voices?

As the film progressed, I also began to hear my own voice, and it actually amused me. I became suspicious of everyone, and everything that happens on the street corner. I heard myself asking, “Why would somebody’s grandson lean on a car which is being repeatedly vandalized?”; “What reason does a boy have to look under a car, especially if he later throws a stone?” Or “Why would a red car suddenly park in your mother’s parking spot? Nothing is a coincidence!” I hope I didn’t miss your intention there…

On a different emotion, I was very moved that, by finding the box of old videotapes, you actually found an object that captures your late father’s point of view of the summer of 2006. The film mentions some other things that happened in that summer: the war, your sister being courted, a shooting in the neighborhood. Can you share anything about the story of finding this object and understanding its significance?

There are many other things I am wondering about. For now, I will mention only one more—it is the ending. In the ending of this film both the story and its cinema are being deconstructed. Everything that was under the surface is surfacing as the image is deteriorating and disrupted. “Life has to be disrupted so it can be revealed.” Can you say something about your decision to deconstruct this beautiful machinery that you created right in front of our eyes?

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz


* * *

Dear Ra’anan,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the questions evoked by the film. I hope I will be able to answer you.

Finding the material was like finding a treasure—everything was there, existing and waiting. I started watching not like a filmmaker, but like the son, who decided many years ago to leave the country he was born in. The material allowed me to share in the daily life with my family, live again in the neighborhood where I was born, not just for any one time but for every time. The camera brought together everything I knew, and I missed all the emotions, all the history, it didn’t distinguish between people, everything which exists existed, and it existed equally. Only a camera can do that. There was no good and bad take.

My father knew where to position the camera; in order to catch the culprit, the man who threw the stone and made it possible for this film to exist.

I followed what my father did. Fast-forwarding, rewinding, stopping, slowing down the image and looking for traces. Slowly the film started to take shape, time didn’t matter, the single angle somehow eliminated time as we know it in cinema, this wasn’t made for a film, it was made for life. Everything and every time existed. The shadow of the house, which could only exist because the second floor is unfinished (since 1948) and the windows are not windows but frames, the shadow is only the shadow of the second floor left uninhabited until today with no roof, and not the shadow of the entire house.

It is the shadow of the catastrophe.

I doubled the shadow, putting a shadow upon shadow.

It felt natural to me to make my father go backwards, I wished it was possible to go back in time. But for the little girl, my niece—“it was a long, long time ago,” she wasn’t even born when the footage was made. For her the notion of time as we adults know it doesn’t exist. What is the meaning of yesterday and tomorrow for a child? Everything she said was poetry, and I treated it as such.

The material was silent, I basically did with sound what my father did with the camera. For my recordings I placed the mic where the camera was placed. I wanted to capture all sounds, just as the camera captured all images. The intertitles originated from the diary I took while watching the material, resulting in many pages in which I took notes of almost everything happening and not happening in front of the camera, emotions and memories they evoked in me. Unlike in films, narratives are endless in life, and there is nothing as endless and mysterious as sound. I recorded myself coughing, and I knew it will sound like my father’s cough. When I watch the film now I believe it is his voice.

In front of the camera everything was a coincidence and an incidence. Such a single, non-moving camera makes you wonder, makes you take an active part in creating your narrative, and other narratives—perhaps this is the sole role of this film, to make coincidence and incidence one, to make you interested in all the things and people who pass by and we don’t notice. But as I wrote in the film: “not everything has a purpose”!

My sister told me about the material, but then she was surprised that I wanted to make a film with it. I carried this material with me for many years before deciding to make a film with it. Then the time came to pay a tribute to my father. A man who worked all his life to give us a better life.

It was quite odd to figure out that the material was made exactly in the month of July 2006, during the war. I don’t mention what war, for me there is a continuous war, but also continuous grace if we contemplate life as the camera does, and as this film does (I hope).

I wrote the text for the end credits when I started editing the film, this is one story I knew, one story among many other stories, each passerby has a story, each living soul and everything has a story. I don’t care as much about cinema as I care about what I wish to express: deconstructed, deteriorated, disrupted. Only then I think we can make beautiful cinema.

Kamal Aljafari

Palermo, 24.02.2021