Documentary therapy: "Cinema Sabaya" review

English Daily #2
Cinema Sabaya (2021) / Regional Panorama
Orit Fouks Rotem
12-7 16:00 Moscow Cinema Blue Hall

Rona, a film director from Tel Aviv, conducts video documentary lessons for a group of Arab and Jewish women. In these sessions, each participant is equipped with a digital camera and assigned various tasks to capture their homes, family members, and personal spaces. As time passes, Rona becomes deeply immersed in the lives of her students, ultimately deciding to craft a film mosaic from their individual video stories.

What unfolds on the screen appears to be a reenactment of real-life lessons, creating a sense of authenticity reminiscent of Iranian docufiction films such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Salam Cinema (1995) with its quasi-fake film-audition concept. However, Cinema Sabaya follows a slightly different structure. The director, Orit Fouks Rotem, has in fact led similar classes and conversations that serve as the foundation for the film, albeit with some alterations. The individuals we witness are actors, yet their confessions blur the line between fiction and their own lived experiences, intertwining documentary elements with fictional storytelling.

Orit Fouks Rotem devotes nearly equal attention to each character, a remarkable accomplishment for such an ensemble story. Despite their stark differences — practicing Judaism or Islam, holding conservative or liberal views — these women manage to find common ground through their shared experiences. Their encounters swiftly surpass mere technical lessons, as they engage in heartfelt discussions about their lives and aspirations, exploring each other's inner worlds and building trusting relationships. The ordinary classroom undergoes a transformative shift, becoming a space for collective therapy. Stereotypes crumble, and even if only momentarily, a hopeful naivety emerges, suggesting that honesty, mutual understanding, and acceptance can wield greater power than blind hatred that fuels violence and war.

Alexander Melyan