"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.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grassroots Movement for Peace and Reconciliation

The film, The Field by Mordechai Vardi, is mostly about Ali Abu Awaad, a Palestinian, living in Beit Ummar near Gush Etzion junction, on the road that links Jerusalem to Hebron.  Abu Awaad believes in non-violence and learning to know the other and he is one of the founders of “Shorashim (Roots)”, a joint project of Palestinians and settlers in the Gush Etzion region. 

When he was a child, Abu Awaad’s mother was jailed for five years as a Palestinian activist.  He also sat in prison during the first intifada and lost a brother in the violence. 

This film is mostly about him and about the discussions that take place at the family’s field.  Located in the West Bank, within the heart of the conflict, there are also many Jewish activists who we meet in the film – Rabbi Avia HaCohen, Rebettzin Hadassah Froman (widow of the famous Rabbi Menachem Froman), Shaul Judelman, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and some others, mostly from the Jewish settlements in the Gush Etzion bloc.

Abu Awaad has permitted Israelis to erect a memorial on his land to the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered near there a few years ago and we watch as some of the parents of the boys come to meet Abu Awaad at this new memorial site. This is one of the most moving sections of the film.

He is particularly eloquent and he tells the Jews who come to hear him: “you want to stand in the shoes of the other, not to lose your identity but in order to engage him”.  His brother Khaled is also active and he talks about the despair among the Palestinian youth.  One of his sons is in jail and the other was hurt in a clash with Israeli soldiers and is now handicapped. 

The Abu Awaad brothers do not believe in going back in history and arguing over whose narrative is the right narrative.  Instead, they say we have to see each other as human beings and move on from there.

But do they have any followers? We don't know this from the film, but it seems that they are practically alone –and not terribly accepted—in Palestinian society.

And do the Jewish settlers—who are pioneers in this new movement of dialogue and reconciliation—have any traction in their communities?

Moreover, it is not entirely clear what the real purpose of this organization is. Is it to meet and learn to recognize the pain and suffering of the other?  This is a good first step, but is it enough?

Or, can we look forward to larger scale activities in the future?  Can these small numbers of Jewish settlers and Palestinian non-violent reconcilers actually have any impact in their communities, which are largely resistant to their activities? This would certainly be an important and welcome development, if they can pull it off.

The Field (documentary, 82 minutes) premiered at DOCAVIV a few days ago.  It is available from JMTFilms. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The People Want Social Justice

During the summer of 2011, Israel saw a major social protest which arose from a groundswell of young people trying to battle the high cost of living, especially the high cost of housing.  At that time, Daphni Leef was a film student who was having trouble paying her rent, so she decided to give up her apartment and pitched a tent on Rothschild Blvd., inviting others to join her via facebook.  Little did she know what she was getting into!

Slowly the movement grew, until it took on major proportions, which literally hundreds of thousands joined from all over Israel.  The slogan of the movement was “The People want Social Justice” and Daphni Leef found herself at the center of this almost uncontrollable event. 

The opening film at the DOCAVIV film festival, a few days ago, was the documentary film, Before My Feet Touch the Ground (לפני שהרגלים נוגעות בקרקע) directed by Daphni Leef.  This compelling film is both about her and about the movement.  It is a highly personal piece, as the filmmaker has decided to turn the camera on herself, so that we can see how one person is affected as she is trying to change the world. We see moments of great satisfaction and moments of despair, frustration, issues of ego, even some violence.  Eventually the tent city was shut down by the authorities.  This film provides an introspective look at herself, at what she went through, how she put herself on the line, how so many people were counting on her, and how it all just literally fizzled out. 

One minister in the right-wing government (Miri Regev) called the protesters left-wing radicals, because they shouted so much and wouldn’t let her speak when she came to the tent camp.  It was a funny moment, because there was no political side in this social protest movement, and also because it has become a regular slogan of the current government to blame everything on the left as if it is a dirty word!

Leef concludes the film with a mantra: “Open your eyes, close your eyes.” Open your eyes and see the inequality and the need for change.  Close your eyes and hide from the burden, the responsibility.  At the end, you are left dreaming – we must continue to dream – and we want to know where a charismatic woman such as Daphni Leef is going from here!

Before My Feet Touch the Ground is a documentary film, 87 minutes in length.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Michal Bat-Adam

Michal Bat-Adam is a well-known Israeli film director and actress.  During the early part of her career, she was an actress on stage, but moved over to film when she received a major role in 1972 with I Love You Rosa, directed by Moshe Mizrahi (later to become her life partner).  Following the success of this film, Bat-Adam appeared in a number of Mizrahi’s films including The House on Chelouche St., Daughters Daughters, and his American Academy award-winning French film Madame Rosa (La vie devant soi).

The first Israeli-born woman to direct a feature film, Bat-Adam began her directing and script-writing career with the acclaimed French-Israeli co-production Moments, which tells the story of a chance encounter between two women.  Since that time, Bat-Adam has written and directed additional features: two are literary adaptations (The Lover and A Thousand and One Wives) and the others are semi-autobiographical in nature (A Thin Line, Boy Meets Girl, Aya: An Imagined Autobiography, The Deserter’s Wife, Love at Second Sight, Life is Life, and Maya).

Bat-Adam’s films portray complex family relationships, providing tremendous sensitivity and painting portraits of women who expose their inner selves.  In relying heavily on the interweaving of elements of past and present, she has created a uniquely Israeli genre that mixes intimate emotions and passions with historical context.  All of her films deal with complex relationships, unique friends, loving portrayals of the elderly, and passionate loves of women. 

In her film, Hope I’m in the Frame, documentary filmmaker Netalie Braun has created a nostalgic look at the works of Michal Bat-Adam.  The film offers a wonderful tribute to a pioneering filmmaker, a woman who broke through into filmmaking before other women in Israel were doing it.  In addition to offering film clips from her many feature films, the film also included spiteful critiques from the Israeli critics who called her films, among other things, “feminine” and “small” and they said her films showed too many boobs! I suppose it’s okay if a male filmmaker includes nudity in his film, but God forbid that a woman filmmaker would make a similar artistic decision!

Hope I’m in the Frame also offers a personal look at both Bat-Adam and Mizrahi – two icons of local and international filmmaking.  It’s nice to see Bat-Adam as a grandmother and to see their love for each other, and how she is filming his memories.  The film (58 minutes) is available from Go2Films.  See the review on this website of Netalie Braun’s previous documentary, The Hangman. This film is not as powerful or complex as the previous one, but it offers a loving portrait of the life and work of an impressive woman filmmaker. 

At the premiere screening at DOCAVIV this past weekend, Braun stated that her motivation for making this film stemmed directedly from “my love of Michal’s films.”  And Bat-Adam gave thanks to Netalie, not only for the making of this film, but also for – “when I was on the fringe of the Israeli film industry, she gave me credit and invited my films to a women’s festival in Rehovot that she curated.”

The Important Things in Life!

Indoors (חדרי הבית) directed by Eitan Green is a film about the importance of “home” for a man who builds homes; it is about whether the four walls that constitute one’s house are truly important, or whether there are more important things in life.  Spoiler Alert: There are more important things in life!

The story is about a Jerusalem builder who is going bankrupt.  He is apparently a stand-up guy and a good family man.  Recently, the family has moved into a luxurious new apartment, which they obviously can’t afford.  After a work accident on his construction site, things begin to come apart and people start to come after him for money – he can't pay his workers; the building supply company is after him for a lot of money; and most scary, a loan shark is calling in his loan.  Only his Arab foreman, his brother-in-law and his basketball-playing adolescent son stand by him.

It was a good story, but surprisingly lacking in complexity of plot and the characters were pretty bland and cardboard thin.  Uri Klein, the film reviewer for Ha’Aretz highly recommended this film, so I went with high expectations.  But I was seriously disappointed.

Eitan Green’s previous films include American Citizen (1992), When Night Falls (1985) and Lena (1982).

Monday, May 8, 2017


Everything is Broken Up and Dances, starring and directed by Nony Geffen, is a difficult film about a young man suffering from PTSD.  It is also about the strength and importance of friendship. 

During the 2014 war in Gaza, Nony is called up to miluim (military reserve duty).  Riding into Gaza in a troop carrier, when asked why he still does miluim, the fellow sitting next to him says it’s for the “hevreh” – for his buddies.  And this is what the film is all about.

Nony’s troop carrier takes a direct hit and some of the soldiers in it are killed, but Nony survives, only to return home in the throes of a psychotic breakdown.  Although they have tried very hard, his parents despair of getting through to him and they agree when his friends offer to care for him.  It is Nony’s best friend, Rotem –- played by Dudu Tassa who is both a superb actor and singer – whose friendship helps to coax Nony out of his psychotic state.

Originally named for his uncle Amnon, a musician, who died fighting in the Yom Kippur War, Nony begins to take on the persona of Amnon.  Although it is not without controversy, his psychiatrist approves of this personality change as a form of shellshock therapy.  With Rotem’s help, Nony begins to live the life of this gregarious character and becomes a rock phenomenon appearing in a Tel Aviv pub to cheering crowds and groupies (including a young woman who becomes his hanger-on girlfriend). Meanwhile, the flashbacks of the terrible attack on the troop carrier persist in Amnon/Nony’s consciousness and in his dreams. 

Athough not at all realistic (in fact, the premise is quite over-the-top), the film is well-scripted (the script was edited by Assi Dayan before he passed away), with great music and compelling characters. It provides us with some important insights into the lives of Jewish Tel Avivians who must cope with war and yet go on with life.  The songs, on the one hand, are about issues of life and death (“Don’t light a candle for me”) and, on the other hand, are about Israeli youth and their values.

Everything is Broken Up and Dances is distributed by United King.  Watch the trailer !

Nony Geffen’s feature debut film was Not in Tel Aviv, 2014. 

If you are interested in the subject of shellshock -- two important Israeli films about shellshock were made back in the late 1980s – Shellshock by Yoel Sharon and Burning Memory (Resisim) by Yossi Somer.  More recently, the film Beneath the Silence also deals with shellshock.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Faith, Intermarriage, and Acceptance of the "Other"

Between Worlds (בין העולמות), directed by Miya Hatav, is a feature film about faith in God and acceptance of the “other”. The story tells of a relationship between two women who are from different worlds –one is an ultra-orthodox Jew and the other is Arab.  They meet in a hospital, both visiting the same young man who has been hurt in a terrorist incident.  One woman is his religious mother and the other is his girlfriend.  When his father arrives, it becomes clear that there has been a deep family rift for a long time. 

The girlfriend, Amal, is Arab and is afraid to tell the family who she is.  Pretending to be visiting someone in a nearby room, she slowly forms a relationship with the mother.  While they are at the hospital all day, the father, a sofer, is searching for an explanation for what has happened to his son and busies himself with checking Yoel’s tefillin.  Meanwhile, the mother realizes who the girl really is and a touching and warm relationship begins to develop between them.

Telling a woman’s story, this film is both a surprisingly human portrayal and also a tragic story.  It is human because we feel the loneliness, the tension and the fear as both women try to resolve their feelings about the young man in the hospital bed.  It is tragic because both women are trapped in their worlds, unable to truly reach out to the other.  Without offering a spoiler, I must say that the film’s ending is a bit disappointing, not really resolving any of the issues that arise within the narrative. 

Between Worlds (feature film, 84 minutes) is available from Go2Films.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Pain of PTSD

Beneath the Silence (הלומים), directed by Erez Mizrachi and Sahar Shavit, offers a portrait of a man suffering from shellshock.  There have been other Israeli feature films about shellshock, especially dealing with the aftermath of the bloody battles of the Yom Kippur War.  Different from the others, however, this film is about a young father who is suffering from shellshock during a triumphant and heroic period following the Six Day War, when no one had yet understood the illness or developed any strategies for helping him. This is a subject that is still relevant to the Israeli reality today. 
The film opens with an authentically-evoked and difficult battle scene which takes place on the final day of the Six Day War.  Menashe is a young field commander and he is stuck in a trench with his best friend next to him.  When his friend is killed, as a result of a direct order that he had given, he is hit with terrible guilt and shellshock. 

Now, 6 years later, before the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Menashe’s son Shlomi is having his 10th birthday.  It is painful and difficult to watch as Menashe is deteriorating and suffering before our eyes.  In a very heartfelt plea for help, his wife Dafna goes to the army to beg that someone do something for her husband’s illness, but they tell her that there’s nothing to be done. 

There are multiple artistic elements to this film – stunning photography using soft focus and often shooting from above.  The filmmakers have also chosen to use allegorical images such as Shlomi’s long hair which represents his individuality and there is a reference to the sacrifice that our soldiers are forced to make – Menashe, in his despair, is clinging to metal bars that form a cross. 

Beneath the Silence is a slow-paced yet compelling film which tells the story of how a man’s suffering affects those around him. The film is available from Go2Films.