The Cemetery Club Tali Shemesh

A lack of focus mars this Israeli documentary and keeps it slightly fuzzy and indistinct. Still, its subject and material are so moving that you’re likely to forget its schematic and aesthetic flaws. The ostensible subject is a group of senior citizens who meet in the Mount Herzl cemetery, where various Israeli heroes and heads of state are buried. They collect there to socialise, discuss philosophy, read poetry and argue, even though none of them have family buried on the grounds. But the main focus of the film is Minia and Lena, director Tali Shemesh’s grandmother and great aunt. They’re a pair with unresolved issues who bicker and disagree over their past history together and the strength of their relationship, in between recounting devastating stories of life during the Holocaust. Alas, Shemesh can’t pull together the argumentative strands in either the group itself or her history-scarred antecedents, and the film doesn’t so much prove a point or move towards a thesis as offer an amorphous vision of the past leaning on the present. But the weight and agony of that past is felt in every frame of this film. And though things can often seem maddeningly nebulous, it’s hard to deny the moving nature of its individual parts: a reminiscence of first love in the Warsaw Ghetto will take your breath away, as does an admission that there’s nothing new about Lena's reaction to Auschwitz because everyone says the same things. You have to pick through the loose ends and dead air sometimes but there are such substantial fragments of remembrance and discussion that you forgive the film’s tentative structure and just learn what you can from these women, the other members and the link to the past that they represent. (Mongrel Media)