Thursday, 20 June
Divine Daycare (Israel, 2018, 53 min) -=- Roni Geffen’s film, Divine Daycare, portrays an exercise in tribal solidarity, as well as an exercise in social solidarity beyond tribal bonds. The film follows the story of a kindergarten for refugee children in south Tel Aviv after Israelis threw six Molotov cocktails and torched it. It is deeply moving and touches raw nerves.
One might say – and justifiably so — that it is not difficult to elicit emotion when the camera focuses on a sweet, smart girl named Lula and her teacher, named Blessing, who perceives her role as far greater than just a kindergarten teacher.
Still, the film is smart because it is effective, revealing a world unknown to most Israelis — in their own backyard. And why should a film to be effective? To spur social change.
An effective documentary confronts a society with something that it prefers to ignore, raises emotions it would rather repress, and thus forces members of that society to identify with those to whom fate has been less kind. Hence its crucial importance, as well as that of the Solidarity Film Festival where the film was screened in Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque.
In one of the film’s scenes, Lula asks her mother to take her home because she misses her. Normally, Lula sleeps at Blessing’s kindergarten because her mother struggles to take care of her. The kindergarten has no chairs and tables — they were burnt in the arson attack. There are roaches in the kindergarten. About six toddlers shared one mattress during the day. Sweet Lula, however, is not afraid of Molotov cocktails because “the fire can only burn chairs and toys.” Any mother who has ever carefully selected her child’s kindergarten would faint long before this — watching the scene where Blessing’s children eat overly-sugared chocolate cornflakes, without milk, from dishes on the floor.
But there is tribe and there is tribe. There is the larger, Jewish tribe favored by Miri Regev, and there is the smaller, nuclear tribe of family, with which the director Roni Geffen comes face-to-face in the film. The kindergarten Blessing operates and the property where she lives belong to Geffen’s uncle, unbeknownst to Geffen (the film claims), and the uncle demands that Blessing leave immediately. He argues that the illegal kindergarten puts him at risk — that he’s liable for breaking the law.
But Blessing and the toddlers have nowhere to go. No one will agree to rent a house out to the kindergarten. Geffen attempts to straighten things out with her uncle, but he refuses to abandon his tribal commitments. “Roni,” he says “I will not let anyone hurt me. Nobody!” His fear of the law is justified, but what matters more is his refusal to do business with “those people.”
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