Unlike the penitents drawn to Santiago de Compostela wearing symbolic scallop shells, aging Israeli filmmaker Yares Moses arrives in the Spanish cathedral town by invitation—to attend a retrospective of his work. In the hotel suite reserved for the aging director and Ruth, his muse, an unlikely painting hangs over the bed. Years ago, a dispute involving both Ruth and the painting, depicting a woman suckling an old man, ended Moses’ collaboration with the screenwriter Trigano and, some say, ended the director’s best work. Trigano (who calls Moses “a failed artist”), helped organize the event; there are no coincidences here.
The director’s journey back to Israel, with its many side trips, becomes a retrospective of his own life, as Moses reflects on the wrongs he has done to others. Worried about Ruth’s ill health, signs of aging, and his fading memory, he decides to seek out Trigano and make amends. Moses’ motives—like all his relationships—are complicated by his fears. Trigano, who knows Moses well, puts a price on his forgiveness. Moses must replicate the painting for the camera. Staging the tableau vivant is needlessly complicated, which makes the humiliation of the old man seems needlessly cruel. When we learn the meaning of the painting, however, we begin to understand the act and its consequences.
We may read this as the story of an aging celebrity—there are parallels to the author’s life—but like the Hebrew title that connotes compassion as well as reflection, the plot contains layers of meaning. The Retrospective will surprise you, remain with you, and, eventually, demand a second look. Yehoshua’s reputation as one of Israel’s finest novelists is well deserved. (A Woman from Jerusalem, 2007.) The Retrospective is highly recommended.