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“When a 50-year-old man kisses a 25-year-old, are we free of judgment?”

In the short film “On the Way Back,” from the “Arava Stories” movie project, veteran Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi plays a family man from a Moshav in the Arava who has a secret affair with a young man from the moshav, played by Shahar Netz. Their encounters are held deep in the desert, far from all eyes. With the release of “Arava Stories” this week, director Moshe Rosenthal writes about the reason why he decided to make this film.

Director Moshe Rosenthal

August 2017, Arava, 104 degrees. I am nearly fainting in a crevice, while dozens of staff who didn’t sleep at night are looking at me exhausted, waiting for this nightmare to end. Next to them sits Lior Ashkenazi, dusty and sweaty, sitting on a folding chair with his eyes closed trying to catch a moment’s rest. Lying next to him, even more dusty, Shachar Netz, patiently waiting for us to begin filming. In every movie I make comes this moment when you feel like everything is going to collapse and that you are to blame for it. You risked the life of your team, you made them leave their families and get lost with you and after you, and now it’s too late to retreat. You can’t apologize and tell everyone that you might have taken this too far, that making a movie in the middle of August in the desert is actually not a good idea. But these are the moments when I ask myself why do I even do it? And what do I have to say to the world that it is so important?

In “On the Way Back,” Lior Ashkenazi plays Uri, a family man from a Moshav in the Arava, where everyone knows everyone, who has a secret affair with a young man from the moshav, Oded, played by Shahar Netz. They make their encounters deep in the desert, far from all eyes. This is not a film about repressed sexuality, but a profound examination of relationships in the infinite space of the closet.

The main inspiration for the film comes from a momentary and almost insignificant experience, which has somehow been engraved deeply in my memory. About 10 years ago, when I was still in the closet, I was dating a 40-year-old man (it seemed very old to me back then). After one of our meetings, he offered me a ride home – on the way while we were driving in his car, a storm began to run wild outside. Waves of water poured on the windshield and we couldn’t see anything. And out of the light conversation we had, I suddenly begun having a terrible anxiety. What happens if there is an accident?! What if he runs into another car, and the vehicle rolls, while we are trapped inside?

I was convinced that it was going to happen, and all I could think about was not the physical damage or even the death that could result by an accident like that, but the phone call my parents would get, telling them that their youngest son was in the car of a 40-year-old foreign man in Ra’anana. The anxiety from the accident that did not happen in the end was so paralyzing that it remained inside me. It stayed inside me even after I got out of the car, and even after I came out of the closet, it actually resonates to this day.

When I started working on the film, I set myself the goal of exploring in depth the feeling that accompanied me then, what was it composed of? In the course of the work it became clear to me that the characters in the film don’t deal only with the fear of exposing their sexuality, but also with the exposure of the type of relationship they are having – a relationship with a significant generational gap.

The film opens with Uri and Oded singing in the car to an old love song, a situation that at first glance is perceived as normative, with the assumption that they are father and a son. This has given me the need to examine whether we, straight, gay, women, men, still find it difficult to accept the legitimacy of relationships between men from two separate generations – two different models of masculinity. Does our ease of accepting love between men feel justified only when it comes to two men of the same generation, usually young and beautiful? When a 50-year-old man kisses a 25-year-old guy, are we free of judgment? Or do we immediately feel that we are dealing with a relationship of exploitation or a psychological crisis in which the young man suffers from an unresolved father complex.

I wanted to present a love that is free of all these basic premises, where the cultural gap, and the resemblance to the “father and son” relationship, are an organic part of their love. With that, the fear that they will be judged for it, the fear that there will not be a home for their specific love, is what leaves them lost in the closet.

I don’t believe that this film carries any flag with it, or demands that society should pay attention to the injustices that are being committed. The sexual identity of the characters is marginal, they don’t discuss it. Their love is not wrapped in definitions or agendas, it simply exists, without a sharp and thundering voice and without a clear destination, hovering, unique and entangled, somewhere deep in the desert.