Who's Gonna Love Me Now? ***
Directors: Barak Heymann, Tomer Heymann
In this Israeli-British co-production, Who's Gonna Love Me Now focuses on the story of Saar Maoz, an Israeli Jewish gay man who has been living in the UK since being kicked out by his family when he came out. Now, following his diagnosis as HIV+, Saar is on a mission to reconnect with his family and return to Israel for the first time in twenty years. But despite offering the olive branch to his parents and siblings, he is greeted with the same prejudice he ran away from, except this time, he is older and more mature.
A HIV+ diagnosis often leads to people re-evaluating their lives, and in this case, Saar has decided to confront the problems head-on that he turned his back on long ago. In London, Saar was a part of the London Gay Men's Chorus, amongst whom he had found happiness and acceptance, and initially it is quite difficult to see why he would want to turn his back on this in favour of the rejection he knows will follow. Subsequently, the film puts much emphasis on comparing and contrasting both the worlds of which Saar is a part. Against a backdrop of numerous gay anthems sung in full voice by a battalion of gay men, we are shown an honest and open account of his family's very private reaction to both his sexuality and diagnosis, which is sometimes uncomfortable to watch.
There are many films and documentaries that tackle the issue of homosexuality in Israel, but unlike these, Who's Gonna Love Me Now shows us a family who are at least trying to reconcile their beliefs about sexuality with their love for their son. Even though his machismo father trains paratroopers as a career, he at least tries to understand his son, even if he is completely incapable of doing so. Because of the continuing embarrassment that his son was kicked out of the kibbutz, albeit twenty years before, he cannot help but search for an easy fix. "Can't you just take a pill?" he asks, with all seriousness. And all the while his mother cannot stop weeping for the son she is convinced is dying.
Where before they had only had to deal with his sexuality, now they must also his HIV status. All seem to be convinced that he is almost on his deathbed, but Saar does little to refute this. At times, it almost feels as though he is deliberately punishing himself for his past, accepting their derision, prejudice and lack of education. His brother wants to keep Saar away from his children, believing it will protect them from HIV. Though he reacts, he is still unable to stand up to him in the way we would hope he would. Having left Israel in shame, it is clear that Saar still struggles with his family's rejection. And in asking himself the eponymous question "Who's Gonna Love Me Now?", you cannot help but feel a portent of doom set against his intention to return to Israel for good.
This is a film about guilt. Guilt about his family; guilt about his diagnosis; guilt about his sexuality full-stop. Though Saar is a charismatic lead, he is a man obsessed with making amends for things that he shouldn't be seeking forgiveness for. He moved to London to give himself freedom, but in the time that he has gone, Israel has become a much safer and freer place for gay men to live. But it is not to this community that Saar is returning. Despite his family's treatment of him, he is determined to reconcile their differences and return to the kibbutz, which considering their prior treatment of him, is somewhat difficult to accept. Post-diagnosis, Saar is prioritising a family that rejected him over a community that had supported him throughout his ordeal, defying any logical reading of this film. But then HIV never was logical, was it?