"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel", is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer of Comedy

It's funny how these things work out.  The summer of 2014 has been one of war, yet there are four new comedies in Israeli movie houses.  In fact, it seems that comedy as a genre is replacing war films, at last!  The comedies include: Zero Motivation (already reviewed on this blog),  Kicking Out Shoshana, The Farewell Party and Hill Start.

Hill Start, first feature film by Oren Stern, is a quirky feel-good comedy on the subject of the family.  In contrast to other films about the family which have been mostly dramas, this one is a comedy about father-son relations, commitment, marriage, communication and compromise.  The family is an upper-middle class family , in which father and son are plastic surgeons who work together yet competitively (reminiscent of Footnote, in which the father and son worked in the same profession but were in competition with each other -- in fact, in both films, the father is played by Shlomo Bar Abba).   Mother and daughter also work together -- they both teach at the same high school -- the mother is the sports teacher and the daughter teaches Arabic.  

The story develops around the love life of the surgeon-son, who is in engaged to marry a girl from a lower socio-economic group (not to mention that she's a manipulative yet loveable Sephardi stereotype), and the teacher-daughter, who is infatuated with Arabic language and culture. 

There is a fair amount of complexity and there is something for everyone -- yoga, driving lessons, the Jerusalem marathon, romance, humor, and just a bit of tits and sex -- after all, this is an Israeli film!
The entire story takes place in Jerusalem, with views that make it truly memorable.   As you watch the film, see if you can pick out familiar streets and sites!

Hill Start was made by United King Films.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Holocaust Survivors

There has been much written about the loneliness and poverty of aging Holocaust survivors in Israel.  Letter from the Past, a short drama (47 minutes) by Ofer Zingerman, sheds light on these issues.

Menachem is a Holocaust survivor, a watch repairman, living in Tel Aviv.  When he receives a letter that had been lost at the post office for 30 years, it brings back memories of a time past.  This is a slow and compelling study of an aging man, his fear of the thugs who exploit the elderly people in his neighborhood, and his memories of his family from so long ago. As his story is slowly revealed, we are drawn in and feel for his sad existence.  

Letter from the Past is available from RuthDiskin.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Felix Tikotin

Many people have strolled along the Carmel in Haifa and wondered why the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art is located there.  The story of the Museum can be found within the life story of Felix Tikotin (1893-1986), a German Jew who dedicated his entire life to collecting, exhibiting and trading in Japanese art.  

Tikotin: A Life Devoted to Japanese Art, directed by Santje Kramer, is a fascinating documentary film that tells the story of  his life.  Tikotin came to Berlin as a young man where he studied architecture, was drafted into World War I, and then became a trader in Japanese art.  He enjoyed traveling, and as a young man went to Japan via the Trans Siberian Railway and then continued by boat.  He purchased whatever Japanese art he could find and he organized exhibitions. 

It's interesting that I found this film so intriguing -- perhaps because it is a personal and compelling story, and also because Tikotin himself was an interesting character, especially due to the fact that he was a European Jew, obsessed with Japanese art and culture decades before it became trendy.

In his personal life, Tikotin was married with three daughters.  Even though the family survived the Holocaust by going into hiding in Holland during the war, there was tragedy in the family, and in some ways, his art collection was more a part of who he was than his family.  

During the post-war period, Tikotin found it difficult to rebuild his business because people weren't interested in art from Japan, so he was forced to work hard to promote interest in Japanese culture.   During his life, there were some problems with authenticity of the prints that he sold.  Nonetheless, he was considered to be a major collector of Japanese art and today, his collection is located in two major museums -- a museum in Japan that acquired a large amount of his collection, and the Tikotin Museum in Haifa which he established in 1960. 

This is the story of a man whose life included tragedy and loneliness, but who had a very special aesthetic sense when it came to art and business.

Tikotin:  A Life Devoted to Japanese Art (documentary, 76 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zero Motivation

In her first feature film, director Talya Lavie has created a quirky comedy which takes place in the human resources office (run by female soldiers) on an Israeli military base in the Negev desert.  Zero Motivation takes place during an earlier period before smartphones and before the army was fully computerized.

The story deals with the ridiculous and mindless paper pushing jobs often given to the young women.  But more importantly, the film is about gender in the military.  These young women are assigned to serve coffee and cookies to the male officers who are actually running the show.  Also, the most insightful and critical scenes in the film portray issues of gender -- one deals with unrequited love and its potential consequences and the other with attempted rape. 

This is not a sophisticated film, in fact, much of the behavior of the young women can be characterized as childish, catty and whining, and much of the script seems so predictable.  But, when these women wield their automatic weapons -- staple guns -- watch out!  It is certainly an enjoyable farce which lends a bit of insight into the situation of females in the Israeli military.  

Zero Motivation was a prizewinner at Tribeca and is available from the Match Factory.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Moroccan Spice

Orange People, directed and written by Hannah Azoulai-Hasfari, is an intriguing and wonderful woman's story -- about three generations of Jewish Moroccan women, living in contemporary Israel.  In both of Azoulai-Hasfari's films (she also wrote the script for Shchur), the subject matter is about supernatural powers.  According to Azoulai-Hasfari (in a radio interview on Reshet Bet, May 2, 2014), the Moroccan culture has a strong belief in the power of dreams and demons. 

Orange People is a richly colorful and quirky film, focusing on a Jewish Moroccan grandmother, Zohara.  Having grown up on the coast in Tangier, she is strangely connected to the sea and lives in an old house on the seashore.  She has some kind of extrasensory perception whereby she is able to enter into a spell and dream the past, and then provide advice on a client's future.  

Beautifully photographed in rich and warm colors, the focus of the film is on Zohara's relationship with her two daughters, neither of whom want to continue her line of work.  Instead, both of them work professionally as cooks -- one has a restaurant in Bat Yam and the other in Paris.  They have learned to cook from their mother, who spices her food with gold, which is a metaphor for the rich life and culture with which she was endowed before leaving Morocco.  The story also includes Zohara's teenage grand-daughter and the special relationship between the two.

Azoulai-Hasfari explains that the film is about her double identity which grapples with two worlds -- the traditional world and the modern world.  Why do I make these films, she asks?  It's a way of coming to terms with my identity.  In both films, Azoulai-Hasfari plays the role of the outsider, but she doesn't necessarily see herself as an outsider, rather, she sees this world as central to who she is.

Orange People is an uplifting film, produced by GreenProductions