It is 1998 and Israel is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state – everyone except poor Mr. Mograbi that is! Instead everybody is bugging him. Make a movie about this! Make a movie about that! His producer can’t seem to make up his mind, and a Palestinian wants him perform the unpleasant task of filming the ruins of Palestinian villages in Israel that were raided during the drive to claim land for the Jews in 1948. To top it all off, the anniversary is scheduled to be celebrated on April 30, which just happens to be Mograbi’s birthday as well. His personal plans are shattered when his producer asks him to film the celebrations …why can’t everybody just leave him alone?
That is the ”set-up” for “Happy Birthday Mr. Mograbi”. It is a humorous, yet deeply political film, in which personal relations, politics, religion, and history are interwoven to form harsh critique of the segment of the Israeli establishment who would rather forget that the founding of the Jewish state was heavily paid for by the Palestinians. Many of the people who lost their homes when Israeli troops chased them away from their villages.
Mograbi has developed a suggestive editing style for this film. Lengthy shots of the wild, ecstatic faces of young Israelis engaged in singing and dancing at political rallies are interrupted by short shots of the empty, vacated houses of ruined Palestinian villages. No verbal commentaries are offered. Mograbi is making a political statement purely by the use of editing. The experience is unsettling. By employing this technique, Mograbi seems to be saying that the celebrations are based on nothing less than a lie. At the same time he points out that the truth about how the Palestinians was treated in 1948 will inevitably surface.
At other times Mograbi employs a completely different storytelling style. Just like the American director Michael Moore, Avi Mograbi puts his own person right in the movie. His plumb figure and stone face expression rarely betrays his own views about what his interviewees are explaining to him. The effect of this approach is that we see modern Israel through Mograbi’s eyes, the eyes of an amazed outsider who can’t understand what is going on, like a child watching a circus act.
Avi Mograbi may not look like it, but he certainly is an angry man and “Happy Birthday Mr. Mograbi” is a totally uncompromising film. Though primarily addressed to Israeli audiences, this film makes such a powerful statement that it deserves international attention.