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An Interview with Kamal Aljafari


1. Robert Bresson

I first read his book Notes sur le cinématographe in Hebrew in Tel Aviv, then I bought a copy in German in Cologne, a copy in French in Paris, and only recently a copy in English. I have the book in Italian, Spanish, Croatian, Vietnamese, and I hold the only Arabic handwritten translation of the book.

I open it at least once a week.

Here is my quote for you today: Nine-tenths of our movements obey habit and automatism. It is anti-nature to subordinate them to will and to thought.

Recently I started to be worried when someone asked me what I am reading. I took a long pause before answering, "Bresson!" "What is it about?" asked the American woman with whom I was having lunch. I was embarrassed to tell her the truth and so I said, "Oh, Its a great novel  about two strangers making love, who suddenly realize that they were together before."

2. Home

The moment I buy the plane ticket my stomach starts to hurt. I buy the ticket two days before I fly, so the pain doesnt last long. I dress well when I fly home, and I dont know anymore whether it is to please my mother or as a disguise for the Israeli security to avoid being stopped as I exit the plane.

Bless me for a safe arrival to Israel.

At the passport control, I hand my Israeli passport to the policewoman and she asks about the aim of my visit. I answer, "Coming home!" She gets annoyed. I think she will not let me in. But once again Im inside.

I walk to the gate and nobody is waiting for me. I take a taxi and tell the Russian driver in Hebrew, "Take me to Dr. Salk Street." He says, "Where?" I give him detailed direction as if from a map. He is dazzled, then suddenly he shouts, "Are you telling me that you want to go to the Arab Ghetto?" 

We drive, he asks me without looking through his rear mirror (because its dirty), "Where have you been?" I answer, "Germany."

I arrive at my parents house, its midday, my mother is sleeping in my sisters room, and my father is sleeping in my brothers room. As I open the refrigerator my mother wakes up. I kiss her. She prepares something for me to eat. She tells me to eat more. I eat and I eat.

She looks at me as if I never had left.

3. Harvard Film Archive

Life is treating me well. I watch movies at the Harvard Film Archive in the only building designed by La Corbusier in the USA. The projectionist John Quackenbush welcomes me by saying, We have an amazing print tonight. I get a ticket for free and if I want I can order and watch any of the 20,000 films from the collection of the Archive.

I shake hands with Haden Guest and David Pendleton before and after every screening. I eat lobsters with Tsai Ming Liang and Lee Kang-sheng. I talk to Stanley Donen of Singing in the Rain about Audrey Hepburn. I watch with Gordon Willis the movie And Then There were None by Rene Clair from 1945. When I ask Willis about the techniques of his camera work in The Godfather, he answers, You frame it, you set it up, boom, boom, boom.

4. Beirut

Every summer I drive from Jaffa to Beirut. I make a stop in the south of Lebanon in the same village. I walk around, I eat sour grapes, and I look from the distance at the house she had built with her sister for her old parents. I look at the picture she gave me of the sea; its taken from the roof, where her room would be.

She wears a red dress and has red nail polish on her toes.

5. Falafel Salim on Saturday 

Saturday is a holy day. Every Sabbath I go to my grandparents house in Jaffa to have falafel for brunch. My uncle Salim makes the most delicious falafel in the world.