"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 contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Defense Files

Are you a late night fan of Law and Order -- trying to unravel the complexities of society through understanding its criminal element? 

This year's Israeli TV documentary series, Defense Files, is better than drama and better than reality TV -- it provides a fascinating and realistic glimpse into the world of the criminal justice system and a look at the challenges facing Israeli society today.  It also helps the viewer to understand the world of the public defender's office -- where the uniquely motivated lawyers are trying to help people who come from diverse backgrounds, some of whom have been wrongfully accused and others have made serious mistakes. 

Six Episodes  - Money, Women, Youth, Death, Rehab, Family

Youth -- The public defenders are working to help young people turn their lives around.  These are young people from difficult backgrounds.  Galina is a teenage girl, quick to anger, incriminated in a stabbing.  The public defender is impressive in his attempts to understand what's behind her anger.  Maor is a young man, already imprisoned, who talks about the temptations of crime and the risks of returning to crime when he is released.  David is part of a gang of soccer fans which beats up Arabs.  He already has seven indictments for attacking Arabs.  He explains how becoming religious and studying Talmud has calmed him down. 

Death -- Valentin lost control of his car and kills a pedestrian and seriously injures a second person.  Mama is an African immigrant, accused of negligence in the case of the death of a baby in a toddler nursery.   David, a tractor driver, is charged with negligent homicide in an accident in which a Romanian construction worker was killed.

Each episode explores three difficult cases, including the lawyer's meetings with the client and family, meetings with the judge, exploring different options for defense, the verdict and sometimes the appeal.  Produced in a minimalist yet realistic style, this series, directed by Moish Goldberg, is comprised of six documentary episodes, 35 minutes each.  

Defense Files is available from Go2Films.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kicking Out Shoshana

Another comedy to add to the growing list of comedies produced in Israel this year --  Kicking Out Shoshana, directed by Shai Kanot, currently playing in Israeli movie houses.  Sometimes the most politically incorrect comedy can be the most entertaining.  This film, although obviously lacking in profundity, is an hysterical farce about soccer and homophobia!! 

The story is a simple one -- Ami Shushan is the hero of the Jerusalem soccer team and he lives and breathes soccer.   When Ami shows interest in the girlfriend of a local hooligan, he is punished and forced to state publicly that he is gay, and that's when his soccer fans show their true homophobic colors and rename him "Shoshana".   As a result, a new gay and lesbian world is opened for Ami, and eventually also for his fans. 
The film pokes fun at just about everyone and everything -- sports agents, transvestites, paparazzi, ultra-orthodox Jews, breast implants, and most of all, homophobes.  It is definitely an over-the-top politically incorrect film, yet I found myself laughing throughout.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Manpower by Noam Kaplan

Manpower (directed by Noam Kaplan) is a biting and tough film about four different stories which intersect in South Tel Aviv where thousands of African political refugees and migrant workers live.  This is a film about the difficulties of everyday life, about financial problems, loneliness, about getting along in a society that is not so welcoming, about frustration and despair.  Israeli society doesn't treat these workers well, their status is problematic and the situation is complex.  

There have been many excellent Israeli films about migrant workers, which deal with how they are treated within our society, such as --
The Human Resources Manager (Eran Riklis)
Foreign Sister (Dan Wolman)
James' Journey to Jerusalem (Ra'anan Alexandrowicz)
Noodle (Ayelet Menachemi)
Janem Janem (Haim Bouzaglo)

This film is perhaps less fictionalized than the others and shows the bare reality of living as a foreign worker in Tel Aviv and how the Israeli authorities deal with this sensitive problem.  Loaded with irony, this is a film about belonging, emigration, and uprootedness.
Emigration and loneliness: There is the Jewish cab driver whose son, Philippine daughter-in-law and Israeli-born grandchild have decided to better their lives by emigrating. 

Frustrations: There is the policeman who comes back from a police trip to Buchenwald and is assigned to round up African foreign workers living in Israel.  It's not so easy to raise a family on a cop's salary. 

Uprootedness: There is the Nigerian man with his wife and child, a leader within the African community, who works cleaning houses despite humiliation and fear of deportation.

Belonging: And there is the teenager who works at Aroma, born in Israel to a mother from the Philippines, desperately hoping to join a combat unit  in the IDF in order to fit into Israeli society. 

Manpower portrays the despair and denigration of these families trying to live their lives and of the cops who are themselves victims in so many ways.  You feel for the characters, all of whom are real people living in South Tel Aviv.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Farewell Party

The Farewell Party  מיתה טובה (directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon), now playing in Israeli movie theaters, received a lot of attention at its premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival recently.  The film is about euthanasia and also about the difficulties and frustrations of living with serious diseases as we grow older.  This is not light subject matter, but the filmmakers have decided to attack the subject using humor and farce.  However, frequently throughout the film, I felt that the genre slipped back and forth between comedy and sentimental drama. 

The film stars Ze'ev Revach and Levana Finkelstein, both of whom are veteran Israeli actors of theater, film and television, who are greatly revered by Israeli audiences.  

Living in a home for the elderly, a bunch of friends get together to help one of their closest friends end his life.  Yehezkel (Revach) invents a machine that will permit their friend to end his own life by pressing a button which releases first a tranquilizer into his intravenous tube and then after a short while releases the medicine that will stop the heart.  When others hear about this, they come asking for their services, creating all kinds of humorous incidents
There is a parallel plot line which creates the sentimental and dramatic element of the film -- Yehezkel's wife (Finkelstein) is slowly deteriorating, losing her mental capacity, forgetting things, and becoming confused.  One day she walks into the breakfast room stark naked.  Later, when she realizes what she has done, she is completely humiliated and refuses to leave her apartment. Her friends appear that evening, sitting in the nearby flower hot house, all of them naked, in a delightful and remarkable attempt to make her feel better.  

Both a romp and serious food for thought, at the same time, The Farewell Party is produced by United King.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett - The Trial of Vivane Amsalem is directed by Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz.  Produced as an extremely minimalist courtroom drama, this is a film that portrays a critical look at the patriarchal society, still alive and well , as seen within the Israeli rabbinical establishment.  In order to get a bill of divorce in Israel, a couple must apply to the rabbinical courts which hold authority in all areas dealing with personal status.  These rabbinical courts are run by ultra-orthodox rabbis, not always insensitive, but certainly limited in their world view.  The film shows how much the woman suffers in these courts which, according to Jewish law (halachah) give all the power to the man in granting a bill of divorce (gett).  In fact, in the film, the rabbinical court judges are portrayed as totally insensitive toward women, even to the point of emotional cruelty.
Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz are a sister and brother team who have made a trilogy dealing with the Moroccan Jewish community in Israel -- already in Shiva(2008), we see that Viviane desperately wants a divorce from her cruel and manipulative husband.  In this new film, Gett, Viviane is fighting for her dignity as she petitions the court over a five-year period.  Although the couple has not lived together for many years, the court's first inclination is to insist that the wife return to the husband's household, even though he is obviously cold, cruel, domineering and manipulative towards her.   
This film, the third in the trilogy, adds another hard-hitting criticism.  Through the witnesses that it brings to the courtroom, the film expresses criticism against traditional Moroccan Jews who live a religious and old-fashioned  way of life, which is extremely restrictive for women. It portrays marriages without love and wives who are dominated by their traditional husbands. However, the film's criticism of this community is perhaps a bit too stereotypical.
The film was awarded first prize in the competition for best Israeli feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, just a few months ago.  Here are the jury remarks --
"Modern societies take for granted that one loves freely and stops loving freely. Yet, as the remarkable movie by Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz suggests, that freedom is denied to women in modern Israel by the rabbinical tribunals.  If cinematographic tradition has made us used and even tired of seeing love as the sole and ultimate object of desire, Viviane Amsalem, the central character of this story desires  the opposite of love: she passionately desires a  Gett or the religious Jewish act of divorcing which can only be granted by a man to a woman. In a very convincingly and beautifully crafted script,  Vivianne desires to stop being the object of a man’s desire. But this passionate desire for stopping to be the object of desire of a man who will not set her free, meets with the resistance of powerful and invisible social machinery made of the various men who control her life and that of the women who appear in front of the tribunal court.  The movie represents a stunning twist on the genre of courtroom drama as it shows the subtle continuity between the court judges and the structure of the patriarchal family.  As the emotionally intense and restrained performance of Menashe Noy  [as the courtroom lawyer petitioning for the claimant] suggests, this powerful social machinery  is defeated not so much by the force of the better argument or by justice but by the relentless attack on a system determined to subdue the feelings and desires of women.  Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz bring here to a conclusion their superb trilogy on the Israeli-Moroccan community, never romanticizing them, never yielding to any facile political reductionism. This is art at its best."

The film is available from Films Distribution.