Seeds of Summer

By Filippo, Maria San | CineAction, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Seeds of Summer


Filippo, Maria San, CineAction


Seeds of Summer (2007), the debut feature of Tel Aviv-based filmmaker Hen Lasker, documents girls' combat training for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the intensive course of instruction and preparation following every Israeli citizen's conscription at age 18. In the tradition of participatory documentary filmmaking, Lasker lived among the girls she was filming for 66 days and nights--an immersion that would not have been accessible to a male filmmaker, making this a necessarily woman-directed film. As an Israeli citizen (born in 1980), Lasker goes a step further in exceeding the outsider's perspective of Harlan County USA or Born into Brothels by returning to the site where she first fell in love, seven years earlier, with one of her fellow commanders--a woman. "To this day my mother thinks that if I hadn't served here, it never would have happened," acknowledges Lasker, and though worded ambiguously her meaning is clear: Lasker owes her lesbianism to the Israeli army.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The provocation this presents to our idea of not just the military but all gender-segregated institutions is encouraged from the film's opening moments, in which parents bid their departing daughters farewell no differently than if they were off to summer camp. Here and throughout, there is a discomforting surrealism to the images that seems attributable to the tension between these unaccustomed glimpses of girls "playing" war and its hovering reality--even if only a minority of Israeli women conscripts go on to see active combat. Posing with a magazine of high-powered ammunition at her hip, one trainee exclaims "It's like The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger!" This incongruity is enhanced, even as the tension is momentarily defused, by interspersing more familiar sights of teenage girl behavior: gossiping and snacking, phoning home for supplies and clean laundry, and shedding their heavy fatigues for bikinis during a day of R&R by the pool.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As Tania Modleski has suggested, even films whose narratives criticize war typically wind up glorifying both war and the warrior (company in which I would include Kathryn Bigelow's roundly acclaimed The Hurt Locker). (1) Seeds of Summer is never prescriptive or partisan, but no matter what your politics, the sight of an 18-year-old girl (who looks much younger) firing an automatic weapon carries, at the very least, an unsettling note. The film is neither a knee-jerk reproof of war and war films, nor a narrowly disguised capitulation to both, nor a naively pacifist plea. Instead, Lasker lets the images, and subjects, speak for themselves. What they reveal is more canny, complex, and compelling than the conventional institutional expose. It is also an intervention on two stalwart cinematic traditions: the mythologizing of transcendent male bonding during wartime, and the converse defiling of women's relationships within representations of all-female institutions, from the girls' school to the women's prison.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The sequences of girls training in the parched desert landscape have the same lyrical beauty of another female-directed combat-training film, Claire Denis's Beau Travail, just as both films invite a desiring gaze that is decidedly homoerotic (with far less subtlety in Beau Travail). Slouching in their fatigues, M-16s slung over their shoulders, the girls of Seeds of Summer become butch babes--or baby butches. No "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" claptrap here; Israel has welcomed homosexuals to serve openly in the military since 1993. When one of their own loses her virginity to her boyfriend while on a weekend pass, she admits to having shouted out her female drill sergeant's name. For Yarden, another recruit, the long-distance relationship mandated by military service is not seen as maintainable. "It'll be like a month before I see him again," she says matter-of-factly of her boyfriend, also undergoing army training. …

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