The Island (Adam Weingrod, 2017) Isreal

Reviewed by Lynn Hartell. Viewed at Metro Theater 4, Santa Barbara.

The Island, by first time filmmaker Adam Weingrod,  is a touching glimpse of  the community living and working at a hospice in Jerusalem. French Hospital St. Louis is located near the Old CIty walls, on the border between East and West Jerusalem. It invites residents from all parts of the city with diverse religious backgrounds including Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

The film takes a slow-paced and gentle look at the end of life. It primarily focuses on David, one of the caregivers, and several of the residents he cares for.  David, an Italian ex-monk, says “he hit the lottery” by doing work he loves. He feels that the end of life should be happy and that this is a special time in life. His gentle nature and care for his patients is shown as he bathes, feeds and moves them.  He feels that caring for his patients in this way is a meeting of two souls.

One would expect a hospice to be dark and depressing but instead Weingrod skillfully creates a place of beauty and light. There is joy and humor, conversation and connection. We see residents dancing, listening to music, creating art. In intimate portraits we see caregivers and family members visiting and sharing memories. In one of many touching moments we hear a son singing to his father “if we could turn back the wheel of time.”

The cinematography supports the feeling of lightness in this healing space. The film uses long takes and pauses to slow us down to the pace of life within the walls of the French Hospital. We see beautifully painted walls, sunshine through windows, blue skies, and welcoming patios. We hear birds chirping and peaceful music. We feel almost feel the wind gently moving the curtains. It makes me want to go there and feel the peace within the space.

The film also reminds us of some of the realities of life here. We are reminded of the bustling city life of Jerusalem.  Traffic, police, ambulances and a protest march are shown from the balcony as a stark contrast to the peace and calm inside. One man watches the buses from the balcony, waiting to see Bus #30. The moment when it finally passes is bittersweet, because “the number 30 goes to my home in Gilo.” We are also shown the inevitability of death.  Weingrod approaches death with grace, dignity but does not skirt the matter-of-fact logistics that accompany it.  As the receptionist acknowledges, “with one click on the computer and a few words is the end of a life”.

I felt like I was transported to the French Hospital and it was not the scary place I imagined.  The residents and caregivers emulate qualities which I aspire to: light, joy and peace. Ultimately, the message of this touching film is one of hope. Highly recommended.




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