Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Woman called Golda

1982, starring Ingrid Bergman(1915-82), Alan Gibson (director), 200m

Golda Meir (1898-1978) was the charismatic prime minister of Israel in the seventies. Born in Kiev, Russia, her family emigrated to the US to escape persecution when she was eight. Bought up in the US and trained as a teacher, she left for Palestine to pursue the Zionist project. Along with her American husband she joined a kibbutz, a commune, where she lived for some years, before going to Jerusalem to take care of her two children. Not a family woman by temperament, her marriage withered away, as she was sucked into the Zionist movement, emerging as a leading figure in the history of the newly carved country of Israel.

The biopic is a riveting drama in spite of it's length and provides insight into the complex history of this troubled region.The story is well told and the events unfold in a coherent series. The outstanding feature is the magnificent performance of Bergman as the older Meir. It seems incredible that this is the romantic lead of Casablanca and Spellbound. The shy beauty is here metamorphosed--by natural aging, experience and the requirements of the present role--into a mesmerizing and heroic visionary, her face furrowed and sculpted by time and age, her voice hoarse and manly. She is an individual of decisiveness and character, as are those who yield themselves to a cause at an early age, and are forged by hardship voluntarily assumed. It is indeed the performance of a prima donna and an attestation to the process of maturation of a human personality--in this case of both the film star and the character she represents. The alchemy achieved by the actress with her role is indeed extraordinary. This was to be her last film. She died of cancer (like Golda Meir), four months after the film was completed.

What kind of human being was Golda Meir? Her voice is a hoarse masculine growl: clear, forceful, often kindly, combative. We see a heavy smoking grandmother, who personally makes and serves coffee and cake to state guests in her kitchen, rides buses, cares for children, an orator, a leader who understands military hardware and can wage war when she so decides, one who inspires the love and loyalty of the commoners, not over empathic to the viewpoint of her nation's enemies. Supremely confident, she is always on stage, with hardly a private persona. She is a leader in the classic military mold, her sex notwithstanding. We see her driven through the bald sunbaked hills of sand, disguised as an Arab, to parley for peace with King Abdullah, who can hardly bear to negotiate with a woman; addressing the UN assembly or convincing her own assembly of leaders to let her go to the US to raise funds for military equipment.

The Middle East, and specifically the Arab-Israel issue, is an endlessly complex maze--an impossible knot-- and the movie is the story of a person's life rather than an attempt to dissect, analyze or clarify the rights and wrongs of a festering history. It is also a portrait of Zionism--it's impelling spirit, if not consequences.

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