‘The Address on the wall’ – ‘Mana Mana Taqel and Persin’

Text – Masha Hinich. 

On Friday, January 26, 2024, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque hosted the Israeli premiere of Ukrainian director Sergei Krutsenko’s film “The Address on the Wall” with actor Alex Ansky in the title role.

In his opening remarks, Ansky cited the questions the film raises, such as:

Who are we? Why do we murder from the very beginning? Who are you Cain or Abel? The paramount question on planet Earth, you must choose! He spoke honestly and persuasively – as an actor and as a philosopher. Who are we? This question is always relevant. Even today, this question is very topical. The film dedicated to the Babi Yar tragedy presents the questions but does not give answers, because they depend on the conscience of every human being.

These words appeared on the wall of the palace of the Babylonian king Belshazzar during a banquet he held, shortly before the fall of his country to Cyrus, king of Persia, all of this is documented in the biblical book of Daniel, “Mana Mana Taqel and Persin” this is the “Writing on the wall” that has occupied the sages of Babylon, who could not find an explanation. Daniel the prophet came to their aid and was able to explain:

Mena – Hashem count your kingdom and put an end to it, tackle – weighed in the scales and found lacking.

And Persin – Your kingdom will be divided and given to prizes and uniforms. In English, the biblical phrase “the writing on the wall” is used to denote an approaching catastrophe, and disaster has indeed come – and more than once.

Each time the writing appears again on the wall, the wise men draw their conclusions, and the people who know what happened, nevertheless they choose not to remember and not to draw conclusions.

This film does not belong to the films we are used to. This is a cinematic collage that reflects filmed and fictional documentary reflections, in which the tragedy reflected through contemporary memories is told.

The characters in the film represent social groups, so they are nameless, and only one unusual character bears a name and that is the German soldier Hans, the individualist, who throughout the film thinks, remembers, and loves. In general, this is not a typical film, not classic or avant-garde cinema, and despite this fact, “The Writing on The Wall” has participated in 16 international film festivals.

The film reflects a contemporary look at events that took place in September 1941 in the Babi Yar Forest in Kiev, and tells about them in cinematic, documentary and artistic language, combining music and poetry.

Nahum Slutzker, producer of “The Inscription on the Wall”, Baruch Berliner, the famous Israeli composer, whose music is heard in the film, and Alex Ansky, the actor, spoke about the moral point of view in their opening remarks to the film. By the way, in my opinion, some of the strongest shots of the film are those starring Nahum Slutzker, the late Hamutal Ansky, Alex Ansky’s wife, Baruch Berliner and his wife Ruhama, who appear as extras in a group of Jews who are led to their deaths at the Babi Yar site.

Sergei Krutsenko, the brilliant director, producer, arranger, poet and composer who created the Israeli-Ukrainian film, died in Kiev at the age of 55 about a year and a half ago, shortly after finishing the film Working on the film, he is one of the co-creators of the “The Address on The Wall” project of which the film is apart: https://theaddressonthewall.net/ Sergei Krusenko shared his thoughts with us:

The film is an attempt to convey historical events from the perspective of a witness, and to involve the viewer In philosophical reflections on the eternal nature of hatred and violence. In fact, what happened in Babi Yar, happens regularly in the modern world and can happen on a global scale at any moment. Another question that arises is the violence that exists today through more sophisticated mechanisms. I think about how people can get to the worst thing and Kill their own kind. This is exactly what happened in Germany during World War II, when Accountants, doctors, musicians and teachers suddenly became murderers. At the same time, they don’t stop being loving parents, and there is a lot of documented evidence about that. How these two contrasts live together in one person, what is the mechanism that allows this phenomenon? These questions arise in the film before us. This film first of all commemorates symbols, so it was shot near the Babi Yar’s forest, a place known for its location notoriously, but as a director I wanted first of all to describe the emotions of people who found themselves In that terrible environment, involve the viewers, even briefly, in events, and more importantly Allow the viewer space to process his feelings, thoughts, and conclusions.

Mass tragedy is always a huge mass of individual tragedies. In my opinion the tragedy of the executioner or the traitor can be worse than the tragedy of the victim himself. Although it sounds un logical, but in reality, the life and death of the executioner is meaningless, unlike the life and death of the Victim. In my opinion, this is a contradiction that our project and film deal with. Isn’t it strange that in the Bible, Cain, the first man born on earth, the first act he did was to kill his brother Abel? Since then, the killing has not stopped for a day. What has changed are the means of killing, the weapons that are becoming more and more deadly, as well as the irrational arms race, which allows humans to destroy the planet.”

The filmmakers did not attempt to accurately document every occurrence in Babi Yar. There is no word in the film about the Ukrainian policemen who took part in the executions. The film raises thoughts – how could this have happened? Alex Ansky also asked this, comparing Herzl’s role in the Dreyfus Affair to Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s role in commemorating Babi Yar when he wrote his poem in 1961. For Yevtushenko’s poem, Shostakovich wrote the first part of his 13th Symphony. Beside Yevtushenko, Shostakovich, Viktor Nekrasov and Anatoly Kuznetsov also wrote about the Babi Yar massacre. The “writing on the wall” indicates not only the prophetic inscription written during the banquet at Belshazzar, but also the order given for the liquidation of the Jews of Kiev.

The Germans entered Kiev on September 19, 1941, after about three-quarters of Kiev’s Jews had managed to leave the city. On September 28, a citywide directive was issued: All Jews of Kiev and its environs must appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, by 8 o’clock In the morning at the corner of Melnikova and Dokhturovskaya Streets) (near the cemetery). You must bring with you: documents, money, valuables, warm clothes, Underwear, etc. Jews who do not obey this order and are found elsewhere will be murdered. Every citizen that will enter apartments abandoned by Jews and take their belongings, will be shot.

Various rumors spread throughout the city, among them that the Jews were about to be sent to Eretz Israel, so many decided to come. In 1966, the writer Anatoly Kuznetsov wrote a documentary novel called “Babi Yar”, which described the events of 1941 based on memories from his childhood. In 2009, they decided to commemorate the writer and the event with a monument erected near the house where Kuznetsov lived and near the school where his mother taught. Alex Ansky stood next to the monument and read the command written on the wall and looked at the statue designed by Ukrainian sculptor Vladimir Zhurvel. The monument was erected thanks to an anonymous donor. Next to the sign written in Ukrainian and German (originally the message was also written in Russian), the sentence was written: To prevent the past from repeating itself, find the courage to look the past in the eye, the whole truth Found in the document-novel “Babi Yar” by Anatoly Kuznetsov (1929-1979), who was an eyewitness to the event. May this event pass from the world and never happen again. This sign is the pretext for creating the film, but unfortunately, the past repeats itself again and again, and probably will not change until human nature changes, which is doubtful to happen.

As already noted, the main actor who participates in the film is the famous and popular Israeli actor and TV host Alex Ansky. He has more than half a century of creative experience, and to some extent has become a symbol of Israel, as several generations of Israelis have learned Hebrew thanks to his Hebrew lessons on television and radio. Alex is incredibly smart, he is still surprised, worried, and empathic. Since the purpose of the film is to create empathy, Alex achieves it perfectly. Ansky and the director, pondering Cain and Abel, search for answers, but can’t find any, and this fact that there is no answer passes perfectly to the viewer. This film is not a film in the conventional sense of the word, but a cinematic collage on the screen that is embodied in poetry and music. The film’s soundtrack combines Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and the music “Cain and Abel” by the famous Israeli composer Baruch Berliner. The film ends with an epilogue in which Baruch Berliner sings the prayer “God Full of Mercy” dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.

The making of the film began in 2016, with a concert organized on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. The concert featured the fourth movement “Cain and Abel” of the symphonic poem “Beresheet” by Israeli composer Baruch Berliner. The concert was performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine. Alex Ansky attended the concert as an announcer and read the Torah verses discussing the first murder. Cinematographer and director Sergei Krutsenko met Israeli producer Nachum Slutzker at the concert and they both created the infrastructure for the film “The Address on the Wall”, dedicated to the Holocaust of the Jews of Kiev.

The film “The Address on the Wall” has been screened so far at 16 festivals such as Cannes, the Mediterranean Film Festival, the Statesboro Film Festival in Georgia, USA, the Berlin International Historical Film Festival, Barcelona Film Festival, the Catalan Human Rights Film Festival and festivals in Canada, Italy, Albania, Hungary, Cyprus, South Korea and more.