The Retrospective, by A.B. Yehoshua is a novel filled with multi-layered retrospectives within an overall retrospective, or retrospective of the whole. It concerns an aging film director named Yair Moses, who has traveled to Santiago from Israel to be honored by a retrospective of his earlier works. By multi-layered retrospective, I mean that there is more than one retrospective within the pages, aside from the one honoring the director.
Ruth, an aging actress who starred in his earlier works, has accompanied him to Santiago. They have been together since she was a young ingenue, and Yair’s movies have revolved around her beauty, sensuality and sexual appeal. She has not only been his lover through the decades, but also the prime reason for his success at film directing.
When the two of them enter their hotel room, Yair is enthralled with a painting, and eventually finds out that it is entitled “Caritas Romana” or “Roman Charity”, based on a Roman legend.
While watching his older films, the ones chosen for the retrospective, he does not seem to remember certain scenes in the films and why he chose to direct them in the fashion he did. It is as if he directed them by rote, or in a state of disinterest. The films are quite avant-garde and filled with trendy themes, and scenes evoking drama, sexuality, enhancing Ruth’s appeal to the audience. The cinematographer, Toledano, would have liked Yair to direct in a different fashion, but Yair refused to listen to Toledano’s suggestions, and his ego overtook the creative aspect.
Toledano could not comprehend this rejection of his artistic and creative cinematographic ideas and skills. Along with his lack of being accepted for his ideas, Trigano, the screenwriter, has the same issues with Yair. He can not please Yair, and must change the script several times in order to suit Yair’s vison. Yair lacks insight into the creative aspect that both Toledano and Trigano want to proceed with. They wanted to use surrealism within their frames, and wanted the film to evoke a sense of visual vividness with modern methods in cinematography through the use of the illuminations within the pages of the script. In their final film with Yair, the two of them end their relationships with Yair, and thereafter, are estranged from him.
Yair reflects back, not only on his early films, but also his interactions with Ruth, with Toledano and with Trigano. He also reflects on his film directing during that time period, and reflects on his recent modern day films. He compares and contrasts, not only on what drove him to make the choices he did, but also reflects on Ruth, and how his use of her in his films was successful. He ponders how he knowingly used her, both in film and in sexual matters, in an uncaring attitude. She was there, was willing, and for him, the lack of commitment was what he desired.
To make a longish book review, shorter (which is almost impossible for me), Yair eventually returns to Israel and meets with Trigano, trying to form a peace between the two of them. It is conditional peace, though, as far as Trigano is concerned. And, I will go no further than that, in explaining.
Meanwhile, the screenwriter views Yair as a directorial failure, a man of no vision and daring, a director who is stuck in his methods, afraid to venture forth. with new ideas. Their rift is composed of more than just film creativity, as Trigano is of Sephardic descent, and Yair is of Ashkenazi descent. Their blending of values, ideals, religious tradition, etc., speaks more of their conflict than of film direction and scripts. It also is an underlying theme, regarding society as a whole, and how the borders of bonding have splintered between the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sephardic Jews.
Along with that underlying theme, is the one regarding the current and continual Arab-Israeli conflict. Yehoshua normally inputs Israeli conflicts within his works, and in The Retrospective, Yehoshua brilliantly illuminates not only that, but also the diversity of the Jewish population in regards to origins. This diversity has fostered turmoil, societal wars, and traditional inequality, viewed from one’s particular perspective. And, within the pages of The Retrospective, there is an underlying retrospective on that theme, itself, as seen through the eyes of Yair, Trigano and Toledano. The reader is taken on a journey through the decades through their perspectives.
Pain, love and loss, and achievement are primary factors that are vividly depicted, as aging characters reflect on their lives. Yehoshua has given the reader a sharp and concise look at characters that are realized, through an insightful character studies.
The end of the book will more than likely be a surprise to most readers. I more or less thought that Yehoshua would end it in this fashion, as hints of it run through the pages. The ending did not disappoint me. It was pure Yehoshua in style, never lacking dimension. His novels never fail to disappoint me, and Retrospective is no different. I found it to be a masterful blend of differing and diverse ideals, visions, religiosity, traditions, societal conflicts, etc., all illuminated within a multifaceted set of retrospectives.
A. B. Yehoshua’s The Retrospective is the work of a master story teller. It is the work of a man who has dedicated his life to educating the reader regarding the inner conflicts within Israel, conflicts within the Jewish community itself, and conflicts between the Jews and Arabs. Those underlying themes run from beginning to end, within the pages of Retrospective. They bring the reader much to ponder within the realm of a retrospective on decades of conflicts within societal and religious mores and acceptances within Israel. From film retrospectives to religious and societal retrospectives, to aging individuals’ retrospectives, the pages are infused with vivid word-images and reflections.
I enjoyed The Retrospective on so many levels, not just the varied retrospective aspects, but also for the creative nuances, depictions, societal influences, and so much more.