"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Troubled Youth

Doubtful by Eliran Elya, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last week, tells the story of Assi, a screenwriter and poet.  Forced to do community service after having hurt someone in a drunken driving accident, he is sent to work with a bunch of problem juveniles in Beersheba.  There he forms a special bond with one of the troubled youth, named Eden, who lives with his single Mom. The older Assi and teenage Eden form a fascinating and somewhat ambivalent relationship.

Most of the film takes place in bleak and dark spaces – in a community center room in Beersheba, in Eden’s poverty neighborhood apartment, on buses and trains, in Assi’s apartment in Tel Aviv, and in Tel Aviv low-scale restaurants – nothing colorful or visually interesting.  In addition, I was disappointed because the film did not have enough depth and the characters were not well-developed. 

Eden is a compelling young man, but we don’t know enough about him, but one thing we know for sure – he is catapulting toward a violent end.   But how will Assi’s involvement be part of what happens?

For distribution info contact Rogovin Brothers Ltd. oren@rogovinbros.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Scaffolding by Matan Yair Wins a Big Award

Scaffolding, directed by Matan Yair (and previously reviewed on this blog) won the award for best Israeli feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, this past week.  The film also took the prize for Best Actor and garnered an honorable mention for Best Cinematography.

Scaffolding world premiered in Cannes’ ACID Selection and is distributed internationally by New Europe Film Sales.

The jury commented that the award was given for the following reasons: "For a film that combines the reality of a group of teenagers and the will of questioning cinema and the role of filmmaking. For its capacity of capturing the tenderness sometimes behind these kids' violence, their capacity for love, their surprising imagination, in a society that places them in a marginal role forever."

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lingering Trauma of Deir Yessin

Born in Deir Yessin, directed by Neta Shoshani, is a new documentary film that premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last week.  This stark and disturbing film tells the Israeli version of a dark stain on Israeli history of the War of Independence -- the story of Deir Yessin, the Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem that was conquered by the Lehi and Irgun, and the ensuing massacre that took place there.

Now, years later, we hear from the Lehi and Irgun perpetrators, the Haganah intelligence operatives who were sent to check out what actually transpired, and the Jerusalem teenagers who were sent to bury the corpses.  The stories include how grenades were thrown into houses and entire families were killed, and how people were lined up and shot against the wall.

The filmmaker pushes the perpetrators to remember the past.  They talk about their memories and their rationalizations. One says: “We fought so that the next generation would take the state for granted.” And another one states: “It was a dirty job but it achieved an important objective.” 
Some of the veterans of these Jewish extremist groups who were interviewed are portrayed by the director of the film as stark raving lunatics. This is a veiled reference to similar extremists in today's Israel who commit unspeakable deeds.

During the early 1950s, the abandoned village of Deir Yassin was closed off to the public and the Givat Shaul psychiatric hospital was built on the ruins.  In a fascinating way, a parallel story is offered in the film.  In the 1960s, a Jewish boy named Dror was born in the hospital, and sent away to be brought up apart from his mother, who spent most of her life in the asylum. Today, he returns to request his mother’s medical records and he reads about the traumas and the suffering of a woman whose baby was taken from her.

The metaphor is quite clear – we are all victims of our past and Deir Yassin represents a stain on our history, a part of our past which is kept closed away in the archives.  We cannot escape who we are and what elements from our past have influenced us.  And some of us have become completely insane from the ongoing cycle of violence which continues to haunt us. In some eerie way, the filmmaker is suggesting to us that we all live in an insane existence on the ruins of this village!

This is a particularly stirring and well-presented documentary film about one side of the story.  It does not try to tell the Palestinian narrative about the suffering, the individuals who were killed, the women and the children or the wild exaggerations that were used in the Arab world to inflate the size of the massacre, causing many Palestinians to flee their homes.  Rather it focuses on the ongoing Israeli struggle to come to grips with such a tragic part of our past.

Born in Deir Yessin (documentary, 63 minutes) can be obtained from Rotem.faran@gmail.com

Sunday, July 23, 2017

West of the Jordan by Amos Gitai

Amos Gitai is a prolific filmmaker – his filmography includes many award-winning feature films and also documentaries.  His latest film, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival this past week, West of the Jordan River, is about the Occupation.  Framing the film with an interview with Yitzhak Rabin which provides a look at his strategy and his vision of moving forward with peace, Gitai sets out to interview a wide array of personages who are involved either politically or on a human rights level with issues dealing with the Occupation. 

He travels with Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy to a tent of mourning in Hebron, he visits a Bedouin school near Kfar Adumim, and he attends meetings of the Parents Circle.  The resulting film unfurls a fascinating mosaic of a reality which simply must not continue!  According to a few of the people interviewed if the reality is not changed soon, the ongoing growth of the settlements and the terrible moral issues will cause a destructive future reality. 

Amos Gitai says he was looking to make a visual diary.  But the film is more of a mix of interviews, many of them shot in a studio, combined with visits to many places in the West Bank, and some in the Gaza Strip.   We speak with Yuli Novack of Breaking the Silence who questions the moral price of the occupation and warns that we are losing the democratic nature of the state. 

Even though the film is mostly about anti-Occupation activists, Gitai tries somewhat to be evenhanded -- not all of the interviewees are leftwing – there is a government minister who talks about the historic right of Israel to the land and Ben-Dror Yemini, a journalist from Yediot Achronot, who firmly believes that the Arabs don’t want peace and reconciliation. 

Together with Gideon Levy we learn that a 15-year-old boy has been killed by soldiers.  The Palestinians in the tent of mourning ask that Israel ends the Occupation and stops the killing of children – perhaps the greatest crime of all.

The scenes of women activists were most compelling for me.  We visit a woman’s group of the Parents Circle (Bereaved Parents for Peace) where we meet Roby and Bushra, both of whom have lost sons in the conflict.  Roby, one of the main activists of the group, and Bushra made a connection over their pain.  We also visit a meeting of B’Tselem, an organization which documents human rights violations, in which a group of Muslim women are being trained to go out with video cameras to document what is happening on a regular basis.  One woman says the camera “gives me strength.”  Another says, “Now they are afraid of us and they back away.”  Some of the footage shot by volunteers of B’Tselem of the soldiers’ treatment of local Palestinians is just shocking.

The film concludes with a backgammon tournament in which both Israelis and Palestinians are participating.  Is a shared Middle Eastern cultural background going to be enough?  How do we mobilize the masses of Israelis to stop the merry-go-round of apathy and in-action and to stand up and say “enough”!

West of the Jordan River (documentary, 94 minutes) is available from Sophie Dulac Distribution, or contact the Israeli production company d.elstner@docandfilm.com

Friday, July 21, 2017

Longing by Savi Gabizon

At the Jerusalem Film Festival this week, I had the opportunity to view Savi Gabizon’s new feature film, Longing.  It is an extremely well-made and compelling film about family and bereavement.  It is also weird yet touching.

One day, a man’s past lover, who he hasn’t seen in about 20 years, comes to tell him that they had a lovely son together.  It was a long time ago, and she never told him.  But now she has come to tell him because their son died about a week before in a terrible car accident, and she felt he would want to know.  The man becomes obsessed with the son he never knew.  He is a successful businessman, but he puts it all aside to undertake a journey to discover his son – he travels up north to Acre, where the boy and his mother and her husband had been living.  There he learns about his son, who he was, who were his friends, and how he lived his life.  It turns out that his son was a bit of a loner, played piano, did drugs, and fell in love with his high school French teacher.  The film is filled with different characters who knew his son in some way, or with people who have also experienced loss. 

But none of this actually tells you what the film is about.  It’s about taking care of and defending your child, about caring for him, your responsibility toward him, and even worrying about his future.  It’s about obsession, love and longing for what you never had – and all of this is taken to the extreme, even to the absurd. 

In his other award-winning films, Shuroo (1990), Lovesick on Nana St. (1995) and Nina’s Tragedies (2003), Savi Gabizon also uses satire and the absurd to make a point about issues of societal disaffection.  But here, in Longing, his societal commentary deals with family, loss, and memorializing the dead.

Write to United Channels Movies for distribution information – info@ucm-film.com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Educational Issues

Scaffolding is a debut film by Matan Yair. It tells the story of a high school senior in Petah Tikva named Asher, who is struggling to finish school with a matriculation certificate.  He is one of the kids for whom school is not so easy – he is barely literate and he is tested orally in the matriculation exams.  We who live in middle class communities rarely meet this type of youngster– he is overly self-confident, always speaking up and telling you what he thinks, sometimes violent, and never quite understands the societal limits to his impulsiveness.

Asher’s domineering and somewhat cruel father owns a scaffolding business and Asher is learning the business, helping out in all of his spare time.  His father doesn’t understand how finishing high school will help his son in his future, so he discourages him from studying for the exams.  The Hebrew word for scaffolding is pigumim, which is a pun --  it is not only the buildings that they fix which are in bad shape, but also in desperate need of fixing is the society which allows schools to mistreat kids at the margins the way that this school does.

Asher and his friends have a new teacher for literature, who tries very hard to understand them and is able to communicate with them.  Indeed, he is a heroic teacher, reaching out to youngsters in trouble in ways that most teachers cannot succeed in doing. As a result, Asher suddenly wants to be the first in his family to finish high school.  But things are not so simple and after tragedy strikes, we wonder what will happen to Asher.

In his opening remarks at the premiere screening last night at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the filmmaker talked about his own experiences as a high school literature teacher, and his own fear that after completing high school, his students will never again read plays, short stories, or poetry.   This fear was the motivating force that was behind his writing the script for this excellent film, which was also screened recently at the Cannes Film Festival, and which gave him the impetus to use all non-professional actors, based on students he knew, when casting the high school students.

Scaffolding -- another film supported by the Gesher Multi-Cultural Film Fund – is a compelling and eye-opening story about Israeli high school kids who live on the margins, desperately wanting to learn like everyone else but years of illiteracy have taken their toll, leading them to a high school experience as juvenile delinquents.  It is also a story about a teacher who succeeds in making a difference in kids’ lives, reminding us of the power of good educators to help shape the future of their students.

For distribution information, contact maya@greenproductions.co.il

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Holy Air is a debut film, directed, written and starring Shady Srour.  In some ways this episodic comedy is similar to the films of Elia Suleiman – about a Christian Arab from Nazareth who is caught between his heritage (as represented by his relationship with his seriously ill father) and his biting and insightful look at his surroundings.  Also, similar to the films of Elia Suleiman, this one also has a dark side to it, seemingly pessimistic about the possibility of life here in the Middle East.

Holy Air is about a man named Adam.  Although he is a Christian, his name implies that he represents “every man”.  Just a typical guy, he is more interested in sex with his wife than just about anything else.  Having just learned that his wife is pregnant, he is trying desperately to find a way to support his family.  In addition, he is quite surprised to discover his own violent side, and he is critical of just about everything around him.  The film pokes fun at road rage, the Jewish establishment, the Muslim protection rackets, and the local church!

Adam has a great idea to make a lot of money – selling the very same air breathed by the Virgin Mary.  He “packages” and “bottles” the air and begins to sell it to tourists.  When he discovers that business is not really as simple as it seems, he works to bring together the Israeli Minister of Tourism, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church, and the head of the Nazareth Muslim mafia, all banding together for the sake of profit. 

This satire was funded by the Gesher Multicultural FilmFund!  I sit on the board, and I’m pretty proud of the diversity and quality of the films that we have funded. For distribution information, contact treem@orange.net.il