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Song of Songs

[…] Moreover, childhood is used to sublimize the earthly world into the epic and fabulous. Here, the synthetic stigmatization, typical of operatic practice, is wildly at work: there is not a child in love with a girl, but childhood, or innocence, or phantasy, that is in love with perfect beauty…

In Song of Songs, Eva Neymann demonstrates how aesthetic freedom can be combined with the strictness of poetry. We float in a Chagallian world, where the line of the story is made up of expressive associations. They are not surrealist associations, displayed in an automatic flow, but rather the result of a rigorous search for “essential” images. The essential is often just a detail of daily life which expresses the core of an experience, an emotive situation, or a Stimmung. These essential images appear like the deepest memories of one’s childhood, and childhood is used as a bridge to recreate the now-extinct world of Russian Jewish shtetls. Moreover, childhood is used to sublimize the earthly world into the epic and fabulous. Here, the synthetic stigmatization, typical of operatic practice, is wildly at work: there is not a child in love with a girl, but childhood, or innocence, or phantasy, that is in love with perfect beauty…

Based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem, Song of Songs is a radical journey into interiority, within the boundaries of a codified society. There is no contradiction between the reveries of a lover and the cultural rules, as the rules become a language; the very language that is used to express and to dream. In this respect, Neymann touches an essential aspect of Jewish culture, where the form – the law or rule – is not merely a tool or a facade, but the incarnation of the spirit. Words are always carefully chosen, images are carefully conceived, but none of this becomes a burden, rather, it tries to catch the rightness of beauty; for the film chants of Love, the song of songs, the canticle of canticles.

The last third of the film, when the two children have become adults facing their responsibilities and roles in society, the story loses its poetry a bit. It goes through tiring negotiations for an impossible love and becomes predictable. This effect is probably intended, even thematized, but the nostalgic turn that follows weighs down the magic of the previous part. In any case, this film is destined to resist its end and to survive and last in our memories. Song of Songs is a beautiful example of the poetic experience that only the cinema can give us.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: May 09, 2016

Song of Songs | Film | Eva Neymann | UKR 2015 | 76’ | FIFF 2016 | Cinéma Rex

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