Diary, 1973-1983

A connecting thread that invariably weaves throughout documentary filmmaker David Perlov’s organically unfolding, yet instinctively lucid, pensive, insightful, and intimately observed personal essay film, Diary is the recurrence of unconscious, naturally occurring patterns – at once, symmetric, convergent, and coincidental, but also paradoxically autonomous, singular, and bifurcated – that continue to resurface and permutate within the unexpected thematic trajectories, understated compositions, and evocative juxtapositions that integrally shape the film’s sublime and enrapturing stream of consciousness. This sense of intrinsic, yet divergent (and inevitably recombinant) symmetry is foretold in the film’s preface, an unattributed, seemingly quoted passage that cites the bureaucratic practice (perhaps in Perlov’s native country of Brazil) of placing two X marks above the photographs of illiterate peasants, one to indicate a person’s first name and another to denote the surname, that serve as default representations of their pseudo-signatures – visually identical glyphs that conceptually signify two separate names, but that, taken together, ascribe a single, unique (and implicitly marginalized) identity. In a sense, Perlov’s epic, decade long chronicle of everyday events and mundane encounters also converges towards as a multivalent singularity that locates his own consciousness – at once intimate and anonymous – within the complex intersection of personal and collective histories, where diurnal life cycles of migration and homecoming, separation and reunion, death and renewal, connection and exile play out against a seemingly unchanged, yet ever transforming cross-cultural, transcontinental landscape.

In fact, the presence of complex, patternistic, bifurcated images pervade even the earliest of Perlov’s shot footages from his (then) newly acquired camera in 1973, most notably, in the domestic images from the family’s first apartment of his wife, Mira and their teenaged, twin daughters, Naomi and Yael who, despite the commonality of their shared birthday, are shown to assert their own separate identities even in the most banal of morning rituals, an individuality that will inevitably lead to artistic professions in unrelated disciplines (as the film begins, Naomi has recently abandoned her music studies in order to study dance, and subsequently, Yael develops an interest in her father’s ongoing project and offers to edit the shot footage from his archived diaries) but that will, nevertheless, propel both daughters, as grown, independent women, to relocate to Paris after the conclusion of their symbolic rite of passage – their compulsory military service – in order to pursue their respective careers (in a subsequent chapter, Yael, now in her twenties, is shown assembling and editing archival footage for Claude Lanzmann’s seminal documentary, Shoah, and Naomi is rehearsing choreography with students at a dance studio).

The duality of images is further reinforced in the early shot of an idyllic sunset along the cityscape of Perlov’s adopted hometown of Kikar Malchei Yisrael on the seemingly auspicious eve of Yom Kippur – the day of atonement – on what would prove to be the calm before the advent of the Yom Kippur War. Staging his camera at several shot positions in order to find the ideal perspective from which to capture the solemnity of worshippers praying along the Wailing Wall on the fateful morning after the outbreak of war, Perlov’s aesthetic preference for the frontality of images becomes a metaphor for his own quest to transform cinema, not as a medium for the illustration of ideas, but for the documentation of “faces” – a theme that is subsequently repeated in the sobering footage of people searching for information on the fates of their missing loved ones by scanning the backgrounds of photographic stills developed from news footage taken by war correspondents. In Perlov’s film, the subject is not found in the foreground of the sensationalized pictures of the battlefield, but in the granular periphery of its anonymous, incidental images that reassert the human face into the collective consciousness of the toll of war – a humanization that is, in turn, reflected in the Israeli public’s outrage over the subsequent massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila by Christian Phalangists during the War in Lebanon, a tragedy that was indirectly enabled by the military’s inaction.

It is interesting to note that in presenting the coincidental intersections between personal experience and contemporary history, Diary transcends the role of cultural testimony and instead becomes a complex autoportrait of Perlov as artist, intellectual, person of conscience. Filming encounters with such notable figures as the inimitable Klaus Kinski on the set of Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt (from the low budget, action film production team of Ken Globus and Menahem Golan) and documentary filmmakers, Joris Ivens and Claude Lanzmann with equal consideration (and affection) as his lifelong friends from Brazil, especially a psychiatrist named Julio and his wife, Fela, a former singer dubbed “the nightingale from Montevideo” who visit the family several times in Tel Aviv during the course of the film (a visit that is invariably accompanied by the gift of records from their native country), and friends from his student days in Paris (including a poignant visit with a bed-ridden, terminally ill friend, Abrasza who reveals his intention to commit suicide when his condition becomes unbearable, and whose final act of despair is subsequently recounted by a witness during one of Perlov’s return trips to the city). Perhaps the most indelible of these incidental convergences occurs in Fela’s performance of a melancholic Brazilian folk song that implores painters of churches not to leave out the “angelitos negros” from their cathedral illustrations for they, too, are loved by God and reside in Heaven, a curiously worded and distinctive plea for social tolerance and equality that surprisingly resurfaces during Perlov’s assignment to film a documentary on the near extinct language of Ladino, a Romance language that is rooted in both Castillian Spanish and Hebrew, where a participant in the documentary plays a sole√° on the guitar that echoes the familiar passages and intrinsic sentiment of Angelitos Negros. It is these unexpected, fleeting instances of remarkable, seemingly fated coincidences – these integral, chance moments that reflect an acute awareness for an overarching universal design and interconnectedness – that inevitably captures the indefinable grace and quotidian poetry of Perlov’s groundbreaking Diary: a dissolution of the bounds between author and subject, face and idea, where the ritual of filmmaking transforms into the essential ritual of life itself.

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