Gur Bentwich is Tel Aviv. Perhaps, just like Woody Allen is New York, Fellini is Rome, Goddard is Paris, and Kiarostami is Tehran. Perhaps, just like Alterman is Tel Aviv, or in his words, “Still, there is something about it.” With Bentwich, it’s not a “possibility,” it’s a concrete fact. No doubt, there’s something remarkable about the city. For Bentwich, Tel Aviv is the thing itself. She’s the one and there’s no one else but her. The site where all miracles happen.
Uri Zohar was also Tel Aviv. In his films, the city became a playground for young men – horny, macho, the IDF’s entertainment troupe, insolent, short-wearing know-it-alls. They ruled the beaches and the beach shacks. In Tel Aviv of the 2000s, there are new rulers. Tel Aviv has become TLV. A city ruled by wealth, skyscrapers built upon the relics of the beach shacks, constant renewal, merciless gentrification. Gur Bentwich operated between these two periods. When it was obviously clear that Uri Zohar’s Tel Aviv was a distant historical memory and the big money still hadn’t yet managed to step on people’s heads. Tel Aviv of the 90s.
The 90s. Need we say more. In our words: Israel’s westernization, cable TV and channel 2, MTV and the Oslo Accords. A reckless sense of optimism floods the collective unconscious. Bentwich operates on this backdrop; he arrives as a product of Israel’s discouraging 80s, its failing films and failing politics, complicated by Lebanon and the first Intifada. Yet it seems as though Bentwich still yearned for Uri Zohar’s Tel Aviv – neighborly, naughty, free, forever young. He presented his own unique version: insider yet outsider. Approaching it with love and deserving duality. Researching its typography, its changes, its people. Living with a sense of constant yearning with the infinite potential of escape. To be and not to be. The characters in Bentwich’s films flee to other regions: India, Australia, the abstract world of psychedelics. They always come back. Not to Israel. To Tel Aviv.
Gur Bentwich’s Tel Aviv is a city of limited possibilities, and that’s its secret charm. A city that has retained its innocence and romance – trans/transient, rocker, secular, apolitical. To be clear – its politics are not vulgar, opinionated, or explicit. The hallucinatory drugs and joints in Something Total and Planet Blue are purely ideological. They facilitate the departure from conscious state A to conscious state B, with Tel Aviv serving as a launching pad, holding nothing back. His cinema reflects the life on the streets, the homes, and the alleyways, during a time of pre-capitalistic greed: frayed around the edges, worn, etched, slightly dirty, with roads that are often rough, defective, lost. Imperfection leads to perfection.
It may be that Gur Bentwich is the last Tel Aviv director. Nowadays, the artistic decree is all about “periphery” and “diversity.” I’m not making this claim with grievance or admonishment – and they say Tel Aviv already had it coming…. This city is denounced, cursed, hated. In Bentwich’s films, everything that is bad is good. Very good.
I selected a few excerpts from Gur Bentwich’s graduate films as well as his features, from a long-standing filmmaking career where one of the main aesthetic and personal messages is as follows: Gur Bentwich is not ashamed of his Tel Aviv background nor has he ever tried to hide it. He tells his stories through the stories of the city. He loves the city and she loves him back.