"World Cinema: Israel"

Upcoming speaking tour in the USA - I will be available from after Succot until Nov. 9th. Please be in touch if you would like to invite me to speak about Israeli cinema in your community!

amykronish@gmail.com

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Religious Fanaticism


The Women’s Balcony is a debut film by Emil Ben Shimon, about the dangers of religious fanaticism.  This is a charming and joyous story of a small Sephardi synagogue in Jerusalem, where the women are an integral part of the religious community.  This is a tolerant community, led by a wise and understanding rabbi, who offers a moderate brand of orthodoxy.  One Shabbat morning during a bar mitzvah, the women’s balcony collapses.  When the dust clears, it becomes apparent that the rebbetzin has been badly hurt and, as a result, the rabbi falls into a state of confusion and despair.  The community becomes paralyzed at the prospect of rebuilding their synagogue, especially without the leadership of their beloved rabbi. 
  
Along comes a charismatic, young rabbi who steps in and offers to takes charge.  He immediately sets his hand to getting permits and renovating the synagogue.  His renovation, however, does not include the rebuilding of the women’s balcony.  He also makes additional changes -- he convinces the men that their wives must be modestly dressed and must cover their heads.  This causes a rift among the women – some accept this and others refuse to.

The women decide to take matters into their own hands and they begin a fundraising campaign to rebuild their balcony inside the synagogue. They are a strong part of the community and the new rabbi’s mistake is that he tries to brush their needs aside.

The film includes wonderful characters – both the men and the women.  There is the owner of a spice shop in the souk and his smart and loving wife.  Then there is the younger generation – a woman involved in a budding romance with one of the charismatic rabbi’s yeshiva students, who himself begins to realize that his rabbi is willing to compromise his ethical standards, all for the advancement of halacha (Jewish law).   


The Women’s Balcony is a fast-paced film, full of quirky characters, lots of good food, all set on the backdrop of the winding alleyways of the old neighborhoods of Jewish Jerusalem -- a film about the empowerment of women and about fighting back against religious extremism.  The film is available from United King.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Through the Wall by Rama Burshtein

Through the Wall, directed by the religious filmmaker, Rama Burshtein, is a new comedy drama, an impressive film about providence, faith, matchmaking, and a woman’s desire for marriage, all on the backdrop of life within the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community in Israel.   Michal is a 32-year-old single woman, religious-by-choice, living within the haredi community and hunting for her intended already for many years.   She is obviously a unique person since she makes a living by traveling around in her little mini-van, taking her petting zoo to birthday parties.  This gives a quirky feel to the entire film!

When Michal’s new fiancĂ© changes his mind about their engagement, instead of cancelling the hall and the wedding dress, she declares that her faith in God tells her that she will have a groom on the date originally planned. 



Of course, you can’t leave things to chance, or to God’s providence, you have to help a bit, and she sets out looking for her groom.  First she seeks out help from a religious woman who offers a superstitious ceremony in order to help Michal find her intended. Instead of becoming a ridiculously comic scene, it takes a turn for the serious when the woman forces Michal to admit what it is she’s looking for.  This scene provides a series of wonderful and touching revelations and we discover that, in addition to the obvious things -- marriage, love, and companionship – she is also looking for status as a married woman within the community and for the opportunity to entertain others at her own Friday night dinner table.   

Don’t you feel sorry for those young haredi men on the street who keep their eyes down and are unable to look at women passersby?  Michal goes on dates arranged by matchmakers and one of the dates is with a seemingly lovely young man, but he is unable to look at her.  He explains that the woman he marries will be more beautiful because she will be the only woman he looks at!  Michal is appalled at this.

She even travels as far as Oman.  While praying and crying at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a surprising experience brings her some hope.  You might think that Michal is willing to marry just about anyone, as long as he will agree to show up on the date planned, but it’s not true.  She is apparently quite careful, and turns so many men away as a result of her sense of humor, her insight and her biting tongue.

To those who remember Rama Burshtein’s award-winning debut film, Fill the Void, this is similar in that it is a feel-good story that takes place within the haredi community.  It is also about marriage and matchmaking, and it has wonderful pacing and a complex story.  This film differs from the other in that Fill the Void was a serious drama and Through the Wall is a comedy drama.  The main characters, and even some of the secondary ones, are portrayed in a compelling and in-depth manner, but some are comic characters. The script has quirky elements and you just love Michal and her sisters. 


Through the Wall is available from The Match Factory.

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Favorite Classics

If you have missed any of these Israeli film classics, the upcoming holiday season might be a time to catch up!  This is NOT an all-inclusive list, but it does provide you with one-stop shopping!  All of these classic Israeli films are highly recommended.

These great classics are available from the National Centerfor Jewish Film 

  • ·        Blind Man’s Bluff, Aner Preminger, 1993 – the story of a professional young woman who must learn to live not only by the expectations of others but also according to her own needs.
  • ·        House on Chelouche St., Moshe Mizrachi, 1973 – the story of a teenage boy coming of age, set against the background of tension and conflict during the period of the British Mandate, immediately before the War of Independence.
  • ·        I Love You Rosa, Moshe Mizrachi, 1972 – nominated for an Oscar, a love story set during the late 19th century in Jerusalem.
  • ·        Kazablan, Menahem Golan, 1973 – fast-paced, full-fledged musical, highlighted by scenes of marvelously choreographed frenetic dancing, which tells the story of an immigrant from Morocco living in the old slum of Jaffa.


In addition, I recommend these one-hour films also from the collection of the National Center for Jewish Film
  • ·        Documentary: Green Dumpster Mystery, Tal Haim Yaffe, 2008 -- In an ostensibly light tone, which balances the serious subjects in the film -- history and memory, Holocaust and bereavement -- the film tells the story of the director himself, who as he rode his scooter through south Tel Aviv, found a stash of old photographs in a dumpster.  In the wake of this find, he sets out on a quest to find the people in the photos. 
  • ·        Short Drama: As If Nothing Happened, Ayelet Barger, 1999 – hard-hitting film about what happens in one family following a terrorist attack.


These are available from the IsraeliFilms website

  • ·        Cup Final, Eran Riklis, 1991 – takes place during the 1982 War in Lebanon and explores the themes of male bonding during wartime, and the relationship between captor and captive.
  • ·        Fictitious Marriage (Marriage of Convenience), Haim Bouzaglo, 1988 – explores issues of identity and distrust between Arabs and Jews, a satire containing humorous caricatures of people who want to be what they are not. 
  • ·        Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer, Assi Dayan, 1976 – featuring the Gashash comedy trio, this is a comedy about reserve duty.
  • ·        He Walked Through the Fields, Yosef Milo, 1967 – Originally presented as a stage play in 1948, tells the story of the heroism of the Palmach generation and the pioneering ethic of self-sacrifice. 
  • ·        Late Summer Blues, Renen Schorr, 1987 – a sensitive coming-of-age story which portrays the issues of graduating from high school in an atmosphere of ongoing war. 
  • ·        Life According to Agfa, Assi Dayan, 1992 – Set in a Tel Aviv pub, this apocalyptic satire portrays a violent nightmare that takes place as a result of society’s ills.
  • ·        Passover Fever, Shemi Zarhin, 1994 – authentically evoked drama about the dysfunctional family that one might find anywhere at holiday time. 
  • ·        Summer of Aviya, Eli Cohen, 1988 – internationally acclaimed drama about a child growing up with a mother who is forever tortured by her Holocaust memories, and its sequel, Under the Domim Tree, Eli Cohen, 1995—portrays the painful struggles of a group of survivor children all living together in a boarding school. 
  • ·        A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman, 2015 -- based on the autobiographical book by Amos Oz about his growing up in Jerusalem during the end of the British Mandatory period and the early years of the state. 
  • ·        Tel Aviv Stories, Ayelet Menahemi and Nirit Yaron, 1992 – three short stories about women.  The third story, Divorce (Get), is about a woman willing to resort to desperate means in response to anachronistic rabbinic laws.
  • ·        The Troupe (Sing Your Heart Out), Avi Nesher, 1979 – a musical comedy about the army entertainment troupe.
  • ·        The Wooden Gun, Ilan Moshenson, 1979 – a deep psychological struggle is portrayed through the games of children, on the backdrop of the period following independence.
  • ·        Walk on Water, Eytan Fox, 2004 – internationally acclaimed film about the emotional baggage that an Israeli Mossad agent carries as a result of his ongoing work. 
  • ·        Yana’s Friends, Arik Kaplun, 1999 – takes place against the backdrop of the Gulf War, portrays a variety of quirky characters and reflects the difficulties of new immigrants in a foreign land.



Friday, September 16, 2016

One Week and a Day by Asaf Polonsky

The award-winning One Week and a Day, directed by Asaf Polonsky, is a quirky tragi-comedy about fathers and sons, family issues, and bereavement.  It is interesting to note that this is a film about losing a son – not to terrorism or to war -- but to cancer.  This is a personal loss which is very difficult to deal with and is not as common in Israeli films.  First-time feature film director Polonsky must be commended for tackling such a difficult subject head-on.

The story is about Eyal and Vicky, a married couple who have just finished sitting shiva for their son, Ronnie.  When the shiva house clears out and they are left alone, they agree to try to get back to normal life.  Vicky tries hard -- going to work, doing her usual jogging, and even keeping a dentist appointment. 

Eyal, on the other hand, is not able to even make the attempt.  A bit bewildered, he sets out to collect his son’s belongings from the hospice where he was taken care of at the end of his illness.  Instead of the colorful blanket that he is looking for, he finds what remains of his son’s medical marijuana, and thus ensues a really humorous scene in which we watch a middle-aged man trying to roll a joint!  Enlisting assistance from a somewhat spaced-out young neighbor who works as a delivery boy, he learns much more than how to roll a joint, and thus begins a day of mischief and healing.

In a last minute attempt to reserve the burial plot next to his son, Eyal finds himself at the funeral of the woman who is to be buried there.  Instead of a series of gags (like the rest of the film), this scene in the cemetery was the most compelling.  Not only are we drawn in by the eulogy, but also by the man delivering it!  Here Eyal is quite visibly moved -- it can be surprisingly comforting to know who will be lying next to your son and perhaps, even watching over him.  The dozens and dozens and dozens of graves that confuse Eyal as he runs around the cemetery, and the tall buildings of Tel Aviv crushing down on him from the background, all seem to provide a perfect setting for a troubled man who is having a crisis following the loss of a grown child.

One Week and a Day is available from NewEurope Film Sales.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Disappointing

Moon in the 12th House, directed by Dorit Hakim, is a nice story about two sisters in contemporary Israel.  We see in the opening shot that, years ago, they experienced a family trauma, and as a result, Mira, the older sister, left home.  Leni was left behind, living in their rural childhood home with their father, who, now years later, can no longer care for himself. 

Now, Mira works at a club in Tel Aviv and is in an abusive relationship with the club owner.  When she discovers that she is pregnant, and doesn’t want to have an abortion, she goes home to her sister.  It’s not easy for the two sisters to rebuild their relationship (although this is not handled with enough depth), to rekindle what they had as sisters, and to open up to each other. 

Meanwhile, Leni is having a fling with the 16-year-old boy next door on the moshav, and we see repeated scenes of her swimming, obviously a metaphor for her seeking freedom from the family commitments that bind her.   

This is a family story of reconciliation, as we discover what happened that tore apart the family years ago.   The title is a reference to Mira's interest in horoscopes.  I just wish the reconciliation had better tension and script development. 


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Story of a Family and a Landmark Photography Studio

Photo Farag (pronounced faraj), directed by Kobi Farag, is a fascinating documentary story about a family from Baghdad, who emigrated to Israel in the 1950s, and eventually became successful in their family business of wedding and events photography.  Their business name became Farag, named for the oldest brother, Farag Perry -- a man with a dream to bring color photography to Israel, who becomes an iconic photography studio pioneer in Tel Aviv. Farag was one of 10 brothers and sisters, who were the children of a poor immigrant family from Baghdad, who lived for 8 years in a transit camp in Petah Tikva.  

Farag was a charmer and a character, somewhat of a braggart and an exhibitionist.  While these qualities helped him become a successful businessman they did not endear him to his family.  As the oldest sibling, he brought all of his brothers into the business, which he thought was a great idea for both the business and the extended family. For a number of years, they all worked together in what became a thriving and glorious enterprise on Dizengoff St. at the corner of Arlozoroff, a landmark shop in the heart of Tel Aviv.  But when his brothers began to have some of their own ideas of how to run the business, this led to a tragic split in the family, which lasted decades.

The filmmaker, himself a nephew of Farag, uses photos and family films from the photography studio collection to bring to life a rags-to-riches success story of a family that did very well. At the same time, he tries to engage some of the family members in an attempt at family reconciliation. 

While the film was captivating, I was disappointed that it gave very little context about the amazing story of the mass immigration of Iraqi Jewry to Israel in the early 1950's. Nor did it give any background on the life of the family in Iraq, before they came to Israel. This would have made for a much richer and compelling film, rather than one that deals mainly with a family torn apart.


Photo Farag (documentary, 77 minutes) is available from Inosan Productions.  mosh@inosan.co.il

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Visionary Leader

Ben Gurion: Epilogue, directed by Yariv Mozer, is a new documentary film about David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel.  He was the visionary who ran the Zionist enterprise during the years before the establishment of the State, who declared the of the State of Israel in 1948, and served as prime minister for 13 years. 

The film makes use of an unknown interview which was conducted in 1968 by Clinton Bailey, a young American journalist.  The film of the interview was found in a film archive and the soundtrack was uncovered in a completely different archive!  Here we meet a steadfast and dedicated man of surprising charm, great humor, vision, and even surprising modesty.  He states quite clearly that a single person doesn’t change history and that the things that he was able to accomplish in his lifetime were built on the deeds of others.

This remarkable interview is accompanied by stupendous footage of Ben Gurion during his early days in Eretz Israel, at the beginning of the 20th century, and later in life working as a farmer during his years living at Sde Boker. Some of the subjects that are dealt with include: his unpopular decision to accept German reparations, his interest in Buddhism, and his love for his wife Paula, who had passed away just a few months before.



Ben Gurion: Epilogue is a documentary film which provides insight into an extraordinary man, who he was and what he believed.  Perhaps most importantly, it revisits Ben Gurion’s resounding desire for peace.  He states unequivocally, “If I would have a choice, between peace and all the territories which we conquered last year, I would prefer peace.”   This is a reference to the territories that Israel conquered in the 1967 war.  Even though many Israeli leaders have espoused this ideal of trading land for peace, only Menachem Begin, in the peace with Egypt, has been brave enough to actually take this step.  If only we had leadership today who could act on this ideal.


Ben Gurion: Epilogue (documentary, 60 minutes) is available from Go2Films.

(Photo credit: M. Stewart, 1968)