"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.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Pain of PTSD

Beneath the Silence (הלומים) 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.   

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New Film by Dan Wolman -- An Award-winning Period Piece offers a real-life Romantic Tragedy

A moving period piece, An Israeli Love Story is an award-winning new and artistic feature film by Dan Wolman which offers a tragic, yet overwhelmingly compelling, story. It a romance between Margalit and Eli, set in 1947 during the tumultuous period of the end of the British Mandate. 

Margalit is an 18-year-old young woman, living with her parents in Nahalal, a moshav in the Galilee.  (Nahalal is a well-known moshav due to its striking physical layout based on concentric circles and also due to the fact that this is where Moshe Dayan lived.) As a young woman, Margalit believes in the power of theater to make social and political change and she is intent on studying acting in Tel Aviv.  One day, she meets and falls in love with Eli, a fighter in the Palmach who is living on a nearby kibbutz, and she finds herself in the position of having to make serious choices in her life.

Eli is a complex character who must juggle a number of things that are important to him – his commitment to the socialist kibbutz way of life, his position as a young commander in the Palmach, and his new-found love for Margalit.  The true story of Eli, the son of Rachel Yanait and Yitzhak Ben Tzvi (president of Israel from 1952 to 1963), is the basis for the script.

Last year, Dan Wolman was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the Israeli Film Academy (Ophir Awards).  He is a veteran Israeli filmmaker who has made a great many award-winning feature films, including Hide and Seek, The Distance, Foreign Sister, and Gei Oni – Valley of Fortitude.

As in many of Wolman’s previous films, An Israeli Love Story is a strikingly human portrayal set against the backdrop of an historical period, mixing a private story with the national narrative. This was a difficult time when people were called upon to make great personal sacrifices, and the fact that the film is based on a true story makes it particularly poignant and authentic. It is a subtle portrayal of a story with which many in Israel are already familiar.  Therefore, the script tells the viewer the tragic ending already from the beginning of the film.  This is a cinematic technique that permits the international viewer to have the same background knowledge that an Israeli film-going audience would have. 

An Israeli Love Story (93 minutes) will open in cinemas in Israel next month, marking 70 years since the period reflected in the film – the period of the British Mandate, leading up to the U.N. vote for partition on November 29, 1947.  An Israeli Love Story is available internationally from Go2Films.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Joseph Cedar's New Film -- Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

Joseph Cedar’s new film, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, opened this week in Jerusalem.  This is the story of Norman Oppenheimer, a New York Jew, who makes a living by hustling, putting together deals and selling influence.  He’s lonely and is desperately seeking some self-importance. The role is played by Richard Gere, who we would usually expect to play a completely different character – someone who radiates self-confidence.  Here, he is challenged to play the eager-to-please Norman, and he does it magnificently! And his charming personality makes it easier for him to gain access to places where he wants to be seen as one who takes pleasure in helping others. 
Norman befriends Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a deputy minister in the Israeli government.  Courting a person who might one day be in power, Norman buys him an expensive pair of shoes.  According to the filmmaker, these shoes represent “something that doesn’t evaporate, something that the character walks through life in.”  And then when Eshel reaches power, Norman cashes in, obtaining a certain amount of status from his position as someone who knows the new prime minister of Israel.  But the prime minister can’t be seen as accepting gifts, and thus we wonder when will it be necessary for him to just cast his friend aside.
At the Israeli premiere of the film last night, sponsored by the Times of Israel, filmmaker Joseph Cedar had an opportunity to discuss his film with the audience.  He described the film as “a love story between two people, that starts out with a gesture and ends up with one sacrificing himself for the other.”  The gesture is the purchase of the pair of shoes, a symbol of the corrupt and greedy Israeli politician whose willingness to accept an expensive gift shows his own moral failings. 

According to Cedar, the movie is about one American Jew and one Israeli, and also about American Jews collectively.  He also called it a "fairy tale." However, I didn't see it this way. Rather, it seemed to me that this film is a very real satirical and sarcastic portrayal of American Jewry, and a hard-hitting look at the relationship between American Jewry and the political leadership of Israel.  American Jewry in the archetypal character of "Norman" is seen as a bumbling, not-too-aggressive fellow, begging for an opportunity to be seen near the seat of power – the way the leadership of American Jewish organizations grovel at the feet of Israeli politicians, wanting nothing more than to be in their presence and to be of service to the cause, without any critical thinking.

In particular, the film makes fun of AIPAC, which is called "AIPAL " in the film (hinting that all that these Jews want is to be pals with the Israeli leadership). The Israeli politicians don’t provide anything in return; rather, they require the sacrifice of each and every American Jew for the sake of their personal agendas which they define as the agendas of the very survival of the state (a very direct hint to the current leadership in Israel!).

Joseph Cedar certainly knows how to make complex narrative films.  His previous award-winning films include: Footnote, Beaufort, Campfire, and Time of Favor.  I especially loved the way that New York City can be seen as a major character in the film.

But I am troubled by Cedar’s simplistic view of American Jews as groveling in the face of aggressive and confident Israeli politicians.  Notwithstanding this criticism, I really liked this film – the parallel to the “court Jews”, the deviousness, the intrigue, the influence peddling, and above all else, the depiction of both the leaders and their American Jewish followers as morally compromised. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Film by Eran Kolirin

Beyond the Mountains and Hills, directed by Eran Kolirin, is the story of a dysfunctional family on the background of life in Jerusalem.

David spent 27 years as an officer in the Israeli army.  Having reached the grade of lieutenant-colonel, he is now retiring.  This film is the story of how he and his family cope with the changes.  David has to learn to adapt to the business world, to being at home with his family, and to learning to like the things that his wife likes.  But it turns out that things are not so easy.  His wife is a high school teacher who is attracted to one of her students; his daughter is involved with left-wing causes; his son is socially awkward; and he has his own frustrations. 

Every scene makes you stand back and feel emotional distance.  There is no warmth between the characters.  In fact, there is suspicion, stilted dialogue, and physical distance – all of which adds to the implied discomfort of the characters, and thence the discomfort of the viewer.  This is a not-so-subtle technique for criticizing dysfunctional elements of Israeli society.  The school teacher is ridiculed by her students.  One army officer is apparently screwing his unit’s young social worker.  The Arabs are seen as terrorists by the security services and the viewer can’t help but see them as potential rapists.

The most difficult criticism of Israel is in the story told by the motivational speaker at David’s attempted entry into the business world.  My interpretation of this story is that you have to do some tough things in a tough world.  In other words, Israel is located in a bad neighborhood, and as a result, is forced to make some difficult choices.  

There is just enough betrayal, revenge, illicit sex and personal frustration to make this an interesting story.  But something is missing in the delivery.  You probably remember that Eran Kolirin also made the Band’s Visit.  But this new film has none of the charm or in-depth characterization that you loved in the Band’s Visit.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Religious Fanaticism and Animosity towards Christianity

A Quiet Heart,לב שקט מאד  , directed by Eitan Anner, is a new feature film about life in Jerusalem.  In this film, there is a clear criticism of religious fanaticism and the haredi animosity towards Christians and Christianity. 

Naomi is a pianist who leaves her parent’s home in Tel Aviv to come to Jerusalem – to get away from the pressures of being a highly talented pianist and her fear of imperfection, and in search of solitude.  She gets a job at the radio station archives and rents a run-down apartment in the haredi part of Kiryat Yovel, where she is surprised to find a child prodigy who sneaks into her apartment every morning to play the piano that has been left there by the previous tenant. 

Not so far away is the community of Ein Kerem, where she stumbles upon an organ being played in a monastery, and feels the solitude and quiet of the church atmosphere.  As a result, she begins to take lessons on the pipe organ from one of the Italian monks. 

The best part of the film is the main character herself (played by Ania Bukstein).  The rest of the film is slow-paced and disappointing.  The secondary characters are stiff and stereotyped, especially the woman leading the struggle against the haredim in Kiryat Yovel and also Naomi’s father who comes from Tel Aviv to rescue her from the perils of life in Jerusalem.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Brothers, Sisters and Heroes on a Journey

My husband, Ron, recently had the opportunity to view the film, My Hero Brother, directed by Yonatan Nir (documentary, 77 minutes).  Here are his thoughts --

I was pleased to have been able to view My Hero Brother last week at a special event hosted by Nefesh B'Nefesh, a group that brings new Jewish immigrants to Israel, and Shutaf, a wonderful organization dedicated to inclusion of young people with disabilities in Israeli society.
This was one of the most beautiful and inspiring documentary films that I have seen in a long time. Superbly filmed and edited -- with many heart-warming interviews, a great sense of humor, and magnificent views of the Himalayas of northern India — this film, directed by Yonatan Nir, told the story of 10 siblings from all over Israel who took their brother or sister with Down Syndrome on an amazing trek to the mountains.  These siblings, who were all ordinary people who simply decided to join this adventure for personal reasons, developed or strengthened the bonds between them and their brother or sister, in beautiful and transformative ways.

Following the screening, in a discussion with one of the producers of the film, Enosh Cassel, (Enosh is the Hebrew/Biblical word for "human being"), we learned about the origins of the film. He had taken his brother Hanan, a young man with Down syndrome to Nepal on a trek in 2011, to the mountains of Nepal. His brother loved the trip, and they discovered that both of them loved being in motion. When they returned to Israel, Channel Two became interested in their trip and made a short documentary film about it. Little by little, siblings with brothers or sisters with Down syndrome began to contact him and it took him 2 years to put the group together:  9 Down Syndrome young adults and their siblings (usually 1, but in one case 2 brothers) and 1 married couple (with Down). He contacted Itamar Peleg, who guides these kinds of treks to the mountains in many places in the world, and they put the trip together.

The film focuses on the stories of 3-4 siblings and their Down syndrome brother or sister. These stories are very real and very human. They show profound love for brother and sister, which is deeply strengthened by this trek, despite all the obstacles and difficulties inherent in such an adventure.  According to Enosh Cassel, the relationships between the siblings totally changed after this project. And, the group continues to meet. In March, they will go together to the Hermon mountains in northern Israel.

As I viewed this film, I could not help but think about so many other films (and newspaper reports) that I have seen about "the ugly Israeli", the one who litters on nature tours, the one who steals towels and faucets from hotels in Turkey, the one who is engaged in corruption and gross materialism, and more. In contrast, this was a film about beautiful people, and I don't mean their external looks. It was about wonderful and genuine people who are doing God's work in healing rifts between brother and brother, and sister and sister, and who show in simple yet profound ways the power of love and dedication that can emerge when brothers and sisters take risks and are prepared to engage in a life-changing journey.

I loved this film, and had a good cry or two. Everyone in the audience walked away inspired and in awe of the power of simple acts of love and compassion of those who dedicate their lives to their brothers and sisters.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Break-dancing is a fascinating form of creative expression for young men.  In the film, Babylon Dreamers, directed by Roman Shumunov, we meet a group of break-dancers, living in Ashdod, immigrants from the FSU.  Their world is one of poverty, family crises, and alienation from the surrounding society. 

The film follows them as they go through rigorous training, win a nation-wide breakdance competition, and travel to a European competition in Germany.  There are some exciting and talented scenes of dancing, mixed with some very difficult family stories.

We get to know the dancers -- “Mixer” works at the port.  In the afternoons, he teaches young boys to do break-dancing.  His Mom is dysfunctional and he is trying very hard to take care of his younger siblings.  “Potter”, who is in the army and living at home with his mom, must undergo knee surgery.

Babylon Dreamers (90 minutes, documentary) offers a compelling look at a social group which has found itself on the periphery of Israeli society.  The film is available from JMT Films.