I’ve been thinking a lot about The Blaumilch Canal lately. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s summer ennui, or maybe it’s simply because they showed this classic Israeli film on cable a few weeks ago. I dunno, everything lately seems a bit Blaumilchy and it keeps flashing through my mind.
In the movie, written and directed by the late and very great Ephraim Kishon, a escapee from a lunatic asylum bcomes enamored of a jackhammer and, one bright day, starts digging up Allenby Street. By mid-morning, there’s a big pile of dirt jamming traffic and bothering the neighbors whose complaints spur the municipality into misguided, malicious action. Unwilling to admit they know nothing about the project, two warring city offiicals begin assisting the unplanned project in an ever-escalating show of one-upsmanship, sending in more workers, earth movers and police guards.
Meanwhile, the crazy man with the jackhammer continues steadily onwards toward the beach. When he finally reaches the Mediterranean, the floodgates open, water rushes up Allenby and Tel Aviv is declared “The Venice of the Middle East” at a grand ceremony presided over by a myopic mayor and his self-serving flunkies – who of course take all credit for having planned, overseen and executed the thing. Little do they know that in the meantime, jackhammering has commenced over at Kikar Malchei Yisrael (today’s Rabin Square).
Of course, like all works of satire, Blaumilch is intended as a parable, in this case about bureaucracy and politics. The frightening part is that, even though the movie is almost 40 years old, it still rings true today. And not just in Israel. The film’s international title was “The Big Dig”. As I’m from Boston – home of the 20 year long project of the same name which was supposed to take half that time – I can only shake my head in amazement.