Obsessively Self-Filming His Vicissitudes

Shooting Love and Anger from Berlin to Tel Aviv

By A.J. Goldmann

Published March 02, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In February 2006, Israeli documentary filmmaker Tomer Heymann traveled to Berlin to present his film, “Paper Dolls,” at the Berlin International Film Festival. One evening, he went in pursuit of the nightlife for which the city is justly famous, and met Andreas Merk, a German choreographer, at the electronic music mecca, Berghain. What started as a 48-hour fling turned into a four-year-long relationship that moves between Europe and Israel.

A Man and His Loves: With mother, lover and a movie camera, Tomer Heymann has all the ingre- dients of his film and life.
COURTESY OF HEYMANN BROTHERS FILM
A Man and His Loves: With mother, lover and a movie camera, Tomer Heymann has all the ingre- dients of his film and life.

Such is the premise of Heymann’s new documentary, “I Shot my Love.” The film made its world premiere at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, which ended on February 21.

Told with raw honesty and unremitting scrutiny, the film examines the relationship between Heymann and Merk against the backdrop of Heymann’s family. More than a plea for tolerance, “I Shot my Love” looks at Israeli-German relations and at generational conflicts within contemporary Israeli life through the prism of this highly intimate love story.

At times uncomfortably personal, “I Shot My Love” is a departure for Heymann, 39, who is best known for the 2006 documentary “Paper Dolls,” about transgendered Filipino caregivers who attend to elderly Orthodox Jews by day and perform in a drag group at a Tel Aviv club by night.

Heymann obsessively documents his life, and “I Shot My Love” is assembled from video footage that he shot over the past four years (including, bizarrely enough, a tape of Merk from the morning after their first encounter). But while Heymann’s gaze often lingers worshipfully on Merk’s eyes and lips, the real anchor in the film is Noa Heymann, the director’s intensely Israeli mother.

Indeed, this tough, weathered woman who watched four of her five sons leave for the Diaspora often seems to be the “love” of the film’s title. Some of the film’s main drama is presented in her frank and open relationship to the one son who remains in Israel, and the influence she tries to exert over his life. She dispenses relationship advice and talks about sex with surprising (and at times brutal) candor.

At one point, she suggests that the gap between Israeli and German cultures is simply too great, and she questions whether Merk even belongs in Israel. The admission is jarring, especially since it comes from a woman who otherwise seems to tolerate all aspects of her son’s lifestyle. In the context of the film, however, it seems that Ms. Heymann is really voicing her anxiety that Merk might take her son away from her. Time and again, she insists that nationality should not be an issue. “Not all Germans are Nazis, and not all Jews are nice,” she says, delivering the film’s most memorable line.

  • Image 1
  • Image 2
  • Image 3


One learns considerably less about Merk, 31, who responds to Heymann’s omnipresent (and often intrusive) camera by seeming alternatively flattered or irritated. In one frustrated moment, he lashes out at Heymann for treating him like a story rather than like his partner, and even laments that the two of them are unable to have good conversations when the camera isn’t rolling. For the audience, many such scenes are both difficult to sit through and disconcertingly confessional. Heymann, for his part, remains safely hidden behind his intrusive camera; one imagines a more satisfying film if the director had stood in front of the lens as emotionally naked as his lover and mother do.

Some humor and pathos come from the contrast between a loud family Seder, in which Merk takes part by reading the German translation of a prewar Haggadah that Heymann’s grandfather brought from Berlin, and from the director’s awkward visit to the Merk household for Christmas, which is the first time that Merk’s staunchly Catholic family meets his Israeli boyfriend.

At the question-and-answer session after the screening, Heymann said he grew up on his grandfather’s stories of Berlin before the war. “It’s so easy to be so cultural that you lose your humanity. Berlin was the cool place to be. And then not many years after, it completely changed,” he said.

Merk, who admits in the film that he was too afraid to ask his grandparents about their experiences during World War II, said after the screening that he finds that living in Israel “somehow makes being German somehow less complicated. The Israeli-German thing became present and daily and simple somehow, and there is no complexity there,” he explained.

“Andreas and Tomer, on this basic level, are two people who met and decided to share the light,” Heymann said, adding that the couple is now deciding whether to build a life together in Israel or elsewhere. The choice, it seems, would have to be made purely with an eye to their respective careers. Ideology and the weight of the history will not factor into what they finally decide. “The movie says it’s time to see each other not with all the complexes from the past,” Heymann explained.

A.J. Goldmann is an arts writer based in Berlin. His most recent article for the Forward was about choreographer Nir de Volff.


Watch the trailer for “I Shot my Love” below:






Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.