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Shooting a German-Israeli relationship

Toby Axelrod, JTA

February 17, 2010 | 1:31 pm

Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann, left, with his mother, Noa, and his German boyfriend Andreas Merk at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Toby Axelrod)

Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann, left, with his mother, Noa, and his German boyfriend Andreas Merk at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Toby Axelrod)

BERLIN—Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann almost never stops shooting. He shoots his mother. He shoots his relatives. And, most of all, he shoots his German boyfriend.

Heymann’s latest documentary, “I Shot My Love,” tells the sometimes painful story about how his love affair with his German boyfriend, Andreas Merk, is complicated by the tortured German-Jewish past.

The film, which debuted last Saturday, is one of several Israeli offerings at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 21.

“What does it mean that more than 60 years after the Shoah, we are in love?” Heymann said in an interview, describing his film. “And what do we solve by being together?”

The two men met in 2006 following the screening of Heymann’s film “Paper Dolls” at the 2006 Berlin film fest, where the movie won several awards.

Heymann, whose grandparents fled from Berlin to Palestine in the 1930s, started filming his new boyfriend almost immediately, providing the footage for this unusual documentary. The film follows Merk after his first date with Heymann, who can be heard from behind the camera and throughout their relationship as it evolves and the couple moves to Tel Aviv.

German-Israeli love affairs are not uncommon. Many Germans of the first postwar generation visited Israel, fell in love and settled down with Israelis.

Heymann, 39, and Merk, 31, are different because they are of the second generation, and they are gay.

When Merk says on camera that he never asked his grandparents about their past during the Nazi era, Heymann wants to know why.

“I was afraid,” Merk answers. “Maybe that’s why I didn’t ask.”

Merk ultimately finds a surprising connection with Heymann’s family, whose German roots are very apparent. Merk talks with Heymann’s older relatives in German, and on Passover he reads aloud from a prewar German Haggadah that had been stowed away for decades.

“Through my relationship with Andreas, the German side that was sleeping so long in my family came out,” Heymann told JTA.

The film juxtaposes Heymann’s open, emotional Israeli family with Merk’s reserved yet equally emotional German Catholic family. It also explores the theme of victimhood, and not just on Heymann’s side.

Merk talks about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Victimhood “is a state of mind,” he tells Heymann. “For me, giving myself to you, it’s like a big thing because I give it out of freedom and out of choice.”

Merk doesn’t always have an easy time of it. Two years into the relationship, he stares down the camera and says, “It’s like, hello? I am not just a story. I’m your partner and this story is alive. In me.”

Today the couple lives in Israel. Merk said he mostly feels welcome, though he occasionally finds himself the subject of off-color remarks about the Holocaust.

When they are in Germany, the two do not visit Holocaust memorials.

“I don’t like these rituals; they seem fake,” Heymann said.

But when Merk recently showed him a “stumbling block” memorial—a small brass plaque embedded in the pavement in front of a building noting the name of a former Jewish tenant who was deported—Heymann is moved.

“This touched me, and created something very close between me and Andreas,” Heymann said. “Hey, something happened between our nations, but today, most Israelis open themselves to create something new.”

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