"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 next speaking tour to North America will be in October 2015! Contact me if you are interested in my speaking in your community. My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Monday, February 8, 2016

Documentary filmmaking -- truth or fantasy?

Tonight, I went to the premiere screening of the documentary film Café Nagler, directed by Mor Kaplansky.  I enjoyed myself so much as I watched a tremendously surprising and humorous documentary about Berlin in the 1920s, made by a creative filmmaker who valiantly tries to recreate some of her family's story. 

In order to please her grandmother, Naomi Kaplansky (veteran documentary filmmaker from Israel TV), the filmmaker embarks on a journey to Berlin to uncover as much as possible about her family's legendary café, where people danced late into the night, laughed, ate to their heart's content, and possibly did even more.  

The Nagler family owned the cafe until 1925 and then immigrated to Palestine where they built a large and beautiful home that can still be seen in Haifa today.  One of the things so fascinating in this film is how the filmmaker goes about trying to find clues about her family during the Berlin period -- how she does her research, the quirky people she interviews and the archival material that she finds. 

What defines a documentary film?  How should a documentary filmmaker go about finding clues as to what might have happened in the past and who is to stay what is true memory?  This film, made with charm and immense creativity, tells the story of one particular Jewish family.  It is also about issues of memory and a fair amount of fantasy.  

Café Nagler (documentary, 59 minutes) is available from Go2Films.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Attacking Difficult Subjects

Wedding Doll, by Nitzan Gilady, is currently playing in Israeli movie houses.  The film tells the story of Hagit, a somewhat mentally challenged young adult who lives with her mother in a remote desert town.  She has a job in a toilet paper factory, where the boss' son takes an interest in her.  Even though she is naive and perhaps lacking in understanding about the ways of the world, she is like other girls her age -- wanting only to be liked and dreaming of one day being a bride.  She spends her time making little paper dolls with wedding veils.  

In many ways this is a very touching story, the acting is great and Hagit is shown to be a surprisingly strong and assertive young woman.  The boss' son, on the other hand, is not held in high esteem by his father, and perhaps as a result, he becomes involved with a group of bad boys who provide him with the outlet for his disappointments. 
I viewed the film at its unveiling at the Jerusalem Film Festival  last summer, but I didn't write about it then because overall, I was disappointed in it for two reasons. Firstly, it was lacking in depth of script.  It could have been a very good short drama, but as a full-length feature film, it was lacking in complexity.  Secondly, I don't like dark films that slowly build on the viewer's fears by dancing around an important issue -- here it is the abuse and general daily humiliation of people who are different.  What do I mean?  There is a creepy feeling throughout that the boss' son and his hooligan friends are just waiting to pounce.  I felt myself worrying  -- what are they going to do to her and will she be strong enough to fight for herself.  Instead, I should have been caught up in a cinematic portrayal of a wonderfully unique young woman who has so much to live for.

Despite these flaws, Wedding Doll provides an authentic glimpse at the lives of young adults who are different and how they must overcome challenges and struggle in order to find a meaningful life within our society.     

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Abulele - a new children's film

I went to a children's movie yesterday at a local movie theater and I enjoyed the "coming attractions" for upcoming children's films -- Steven Spielberg's animated The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant), an animation  by the team that made Shrek, and more.  

But most important, I loved the values and messages of the film that I saw, Abulele by Yoni Geva.  It's about the importance of bravery, friendship and standing up for what you believe.

This is a film filled with tension about a 10-year-old boy named Adam who lives in Givat Massua, a neighborhood in western Jerusalem.  Adam lost his big brother in a car accident a year ago and is carrying around a burden of guilt.  His loneliness, together with his capacity for facing his fears, lead him to be capable of believing in a large furry monster as his closest friend.  Most others cannot see the monster and if they do they are terrified of him.  His neighbor, a girl from his class, however, is also particularly vulnerable -- and so she can see and appreciate the monster and they band together to fight to protect him.

Adam learns from the Arab janitor in his school (played by Makram Khoury) about Abulele, ancient monsters of the night who come out to scare little children.  This is the monster who will come and get you if you're not a good little boy or girl.  But Adam eventually discovers that the monster who is certainly big and scary can also be warm and fuzzy.

This is a fantasy film for children, but it's also about bereavement, divorce, bullying, and loneliness.  It's a film in which the viewer definitely believes in the existence of the monster, and doesn't understand why everyone doubts it.  I love the way the monster begins to help Adam with his problems -- by bullying the bullies, and by getting "even" with the overly zealous and somewhat cruel civics teacher.  

This is also a good guy/bad guy story with a SWAT team (Israeli security forces) which is supposed to be fighting the forces of evil, but here they are hunting Adam's Abulele.  So, who turns out to be more scary and dangerous -- your warm and fuzzy monster or the local SWAT team?  And don't be surprised that you will find yourself rooting for the warm and fuzzy monster!

Watch the trailer on youtube (Hebrew only). 

Abulele, the first film by filmmaker Yoni Geva, is available from United King Films.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Migrant Workers

Last week, I attended LIMMUD U.K.,  which was held this year in Birmingham.  It was a first time for me and I found it quite exciting!  Bringing together more than 2,500 individuals of all ages, LIMMUD offers study on multiple subjects dealing with Jewish life in the contemporary period.  I presented sessions on Israeli film, introduced film screenings, and participated in various panels.  But more importantly, I was also a participant, going from session to session, learning and listening.  It was an extraordinary experience!
I was honored to participate in a panel discussion following the screening of a new feature film, Transit, directed by Hannah Espia.  This is a new film from the Philippines about Philippine migrant workers in Tel Aviv.  The screening was arranged by U.K. Jewish Film Festival. 

This is the first feature film by Philippine filmmaker, Hannah Espia. The film was the Philippines' submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, 2014.

The film deals with a new draconian measure implemented by the Israeli government -- the deportation of the children of migrant workers.  As a result of this new policy, the workers must struggle to protect their children.  In the film, we meet Janet who works cleaning houses.  She is living on an expired visa, and has to worry about her teenage daughter, Yael, who is half Israeli, but according to Janet, that doesn't change her existential identity.  She also worries about Joshua, a 4-year-old little boy who she takes care of.  Joshua is the son of a relative of hers, Moises, who works as a live-in caretaker for an elderly but lovely man.  Joshua's mom has married an Israeli man and she has moved on with her life.  Soon arrives another member of the family, Tina, who is a cousin.  

There are three cinematic techniques that make this an interesting and at the same time a film which is difficult to watch -- language, time and perspective.  The film is slow-moving and tender, but there is too much broken Hebrew which is stilted and grates on the viewer, especially if the viewer speaks Hebrew.  This is a realistic and also sad view of the Hebrew spoken by migrant workers.  Just as our grandparents were immigrant parents and spoke a broken English or a broken Hebrew, so too, these migrant workers "break their teeth" on a language which comes naturally to their children. 

The film is interesting from the point of view of how it treats "time".  It is multi-dimensional when it comes to time!  This is the part of the film that is most extraordinary.  As the perspective or point-of-view changes when each of the characters tells his or her story, then some key scenes are replayed, providing more insight into the characters, as we learn more about their struggles. Many people in the audience were bothered by the repetition, but I found it to be a fascinating technique.

There is something kitsch about the token Israeli "views" in the film -- the Kotel, Old Jaffa, a local Church, a bar mitzvah and a Sefer Torah.  But, overall, it presents a fascinating story of life in Israel for these illegal migrant workers who choose to come to Tel Aviv, the difficult circumstances notwithstanding, and who talk freely about the hardships of life back in the Philippines.
The other panelists discussed some of their experiences in working with foreign workers in both South Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem.  

Transit by Hannah Espia (feature film, 93 minutes) is available from Electric Entertainment. 

The subject of migrant workers is an important issue within Israeli society today and it has been dealt with in many important Israeli feature films, such as  --

  • ·         Noodle by Ayelet Menachemi
  • ·         Foreign Sister by Dan Wolman
  • ·         Manpower by Noam Kaplan
  • ·         The Human Resources Manager by Eran Riklis, based on a novel by A.B. Yehoshua

And two major Israeli documentaries --

  • ·         The Tale of Nicolai and the Law of Return  by David Ofek 
  • ·         Strangers no More by Karen Goodman

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Best Israeli Films of 2015

It's time for my list of the best Israeli films of 2015.  With best wishes for a healthy and safe New Year to all! 

BEST FEATURE FILMS -- there were so many feature films produced this year!  Here are the highlights!
Films about the Individual and the Family

  • ·         Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem by Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz - I listed this one in 2014, but it actually received distribution this year, and it's worth including over and over!  A courtoom drama that portrays a critical look at the rabbinical establishment which is so harsh in its treatment of women who request a divorce.
  • ·         A Tale of Love and Darkness by Natalie Portman, based on the autobiographical work by Amos Oz which deals with growing up in Jerusalem during the end of the British Mandatory period and the early years of the State.
  • ·         Kind Words by Shemi Zarhin - a charming and complex family drama.
  • ·         Next to Her by Asaf Korman - an emotional story about caring for a mentally-challenged sister.
  • ·         Afterthought by Elad Keidan - a quirky comedy about friendship and betrayal which takes place as two men in Haifa intersect, one walking up the mountain and the other walking down.
  • ·         Baba Joon by Yuval Delshad - a story of a Jewish family of Iranian descent living on a religious moshav during the 1980s.

Films on the background of the National/Political Story

  • ·         A.K.A. Nadia by Tova Ascher - a film about a Palestinian woman who hides her identity and marries a Jewish man.
  • ·         Sabena Hijacking by Rani Sa'ar - the story of the hijacking of the Sabena airliner in 1972.
  • ·         Wounded Land by Erez Tadmor - about how people react in the wake of a suicide bombing.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILMS - This year included many high quality documentary films, dealing with fascinating subject matter!

  • ·         Mr. Gaga by Tomer Heyman - story of Ohad Naharin, world-renowned and critically acclaimed choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company.
  •         Women in Sink by Iris Zaki - an insightful and honest look at Arab and Jewish women living in Haifa as they talk while having their hair done at a local salon.
  • ·         Rabin in His Own Words by Erez Laufer - an inspiring look at Rabin's public and private lives.
  • ·         Thru You Princess by Ido Haar - about Kutiman, an Israeli musical phenomenon, and his discovery of an African-American singer, Princess Shaw, and how he makes her into a star.
  • ·         Rock in the Red Zone by Laura Bialis - about the making of music as a therapeutic tool while under constant missile attack in Sderot.
  • ·         The Bentwich Syndrome by Gur Bentwich - the story of an Anglo-Jewish family, the descendants of Sir Herbert Bentwich.
  • ·         Censored Voices by Mor Loushy - based on the post 1967 war interviews for a book, entitled The Seventh Day, this film raises issues of morality during wartime.
  • ·         Arab Movie by Eyal Sagui Bizawe and Sara Tsifroni - about Israel's TV screening of a weekly Egyptian movie on Friday afternoons during the 1970s and 80s.

All of the films listed here have been reviewed on this blog.  Just go to the column on the left-hand side and click on what interests you!