"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 22, 2024

A New Film about Breast Feeding opens at the Jerusalem Film Festival

The Milky Way, directed by Maya Kenig, is a quirky parable about young mothers and how they relate to being chained down by breast feeding.

 Tala is a single woman, an offbeat singer who has just given birth to a baby girl. She lives with her mother, who is trying to help out.  Tala finds work at a factory where dozens of young mothers are pumping breast milk for sale.  This place is a big business, with pumping stations, a bottling plant with an enormous conveyor belt carrying the bottles filled with breast milk, and even a fleet of delivery trucks.

Through a series of charming incidents, Tala meets Nili who is a client and whose baby is thriving on Tala’s breast milk.  Tala learns a lot from Nili’s lonely lifestyle, and it helps her to appreciate and understand her own relationships – with her mother, with her baby daughter, and even with the father of her baby. 

Although a bit strange, this film, which is about motherhood, about connecting to your baby, and about the difficulties of being a single mom, includes great acting, a super script, and tremendous charm.  The film is filled with humor but also angst and pathos.

Filmmaker Maya Kenig is known for her previous films, the quirky Off-white Lies, starring her husband Gur Bentwich, and the charming Bentwich Syndrome, co-directed with her husband, both of which have been reviewed previously on this blog.


Sunday, July 21, 2024

Documentary Film about Ada Karmi at the Jerusalem Film Festival

These are difficult times in Israel, but life is going on, the best that it can, and the Jerusalem Film Festival is being held this week, as planned.  I am enjoying the films, the guests, and the special events.  The opening event in Sultan’s Pool was thrilling, with more than 5,000 people in attendance. 

The first film that I chose to write about is Ada – My Mother the Architect, by Yael Melamede, a portrait of one woman, Ada Karmi Melamede.  Ada Karmi’s father and brother were both prominent architects in Israel, and she herself is a household name, one of the most prominent and award-winning architects. 

As a young married woman and mother, she moved to New York with her family, where they lived for many years, and she taught architecture for 14 years at Columbia University.  When she was denied tenure there, she made the decision to move back to Israel and work together with her brother, designing monuments and iconic buildings within the public sphere of the country.  Together they designed the magnificent Supreme Court building in Jerusalem which opened in the early 1990s.  Since that time, she has been creating and working in Israel.

If Ada Karmi had been a man, no one would blink an eye at the fact that she left her husband and three adolescent children behind, when she returned to Israel.  But this seems to be an unusual move for a woman.  Her daughter, the filmmaker, tries not to judge her, but rather asks her questions about why she left them and how she relates to motherhood. 

The film is made against the backdrop of the terrible coup that the rightwing government was attempting to enact against the justice system during the year 2023. 

Yael Melamede studied both architecture and film.  Her previous documentary credits include 1341 Frames of Love and War (2022), the Steven Spielberg six-part series Why We Hate (2019), When I Walk (News & Documentary Emmy Award Winner, 2015), (DIS)Honesty – The Truth About Lies (her debut film, 2015), Inocente (Academy Award Winner, Best documentary Short, 2013).

Ada – My Mother the Architect (82 minutes) is an extraordinary documentary film, produced by Hila Medalia and distributed by Medalia Films.


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Hemda, a new film by Shemi Zarhin

 I recently had the opportunity to view the new Israeli feature film, Hemda by Shemi Zarhin. The film stars two wonderful veteran actors of Israeli stage and screen – Sasson Gabai and Assi Levi, who were paired together also in Shemi Zarhin’s Aviva My Love (2006).  Zarhin, whose earlier films include Passover Fever (1995) and Dangerous Acts (1998), is one of the great Israeli filmmakers of humanistic narrative films about family issues. 

Hemda is an extraordinary film about family, loyalty, relationships and love and includes both comic and tragic elements.

 The film opens with Sassi and Effi going together to the doctor. Ever since Sassi’s major prostrate surgery about two years earlier, he has a problem with sexual dysfunction.  Effi is Sassi's second wife and there seems to be a major age difference between them.  Sassi has two grown children with his first wife, one of whom is a son living abroad, having run away from his debts. 

 Sassi and Effi are each working tirelessly to pay back those debts. She is a watsu water therapist and, in the evenings, a music teacher.  He drives a truck around the Galilee, emptying enormous recycling bins. Things become complicated when two young men enter the picture -- Sassi’s grandson arrives from Brussels, and David, a previous student of Effi’s, shows up needing water therapy.

In addition to visually seeing the fields and communities of the Galilee, we can also feel its diversity as there is a fair amount of Arabic language and Arab characters throughout.

This is a complex story, portraying compelling and quirky characters, who we care about and worry about.  


Monday, June 3, 2024

Redeeming Hostages as part of the ethos of Contemporary Israel

Hostages (שבווים), by Duki Dror and Itay Landsberg, which premiered at the DocAviv festival last week, is a 6-part documentary series, made for TV broadcast.  It will be broadcast beginning the end of August, on consecutive weeks, on KAN television, which is Israel’s public broadcasting station.

I saw Episode 2 which was about the story of eight Nahal soldiers who were captured during the early years of the Lebanon War. Six were held by the PLO and two were held by Ahmad Jabril. The film told the story of the negotiations over how to get a sign of life, how many Palestinians were to be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for the Israeli soldiers, and the dilemmas in making the decisions.  

This episode highlighted the behind-the-scenes contribution of Princess Dina, who had been married to King Hussein of Jordan.  After their divorce, she married Salah Tamari, who was a leader of the PLO, and later became a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.  During the War in Lebanon, he was captured at Sidon, and Dina became an important go-between in the negotiations.  As part of this, she obtained visits with her husband and he was brought to see her in Israel.  On one occasion, he asked to meet a Holocaust survivor and they took him to meet Abba Kovner, the iconic partisan from WWII.  When Salah Tamari was released at the end of the episode, he said, basically what he learned from Abba Kovner, that we should have peace and the fighting must come to an end. 

The episode of this new series was extremely well-done, with superb artwork. It unfolded like a thriller. I felt that it was very striking to see how history can be so relevant to what we are experiencing today. 

After the screening, the filmmaker, Duki Dror, talked about the fact that he had been working on this series for two years, even before October 7
th.  This is not a new subject for Israel. He talked about an important dichotomy – the value of human life and mutual responsibility versus the ethos of sacrifice during a time of conflict and the need to win the war.  He defined the former as the essence of what we are about.  This was for me the central point of how different the hostage negotiations were in those days versus how they are handled today. 

Today, even with more than 125 hostages still remaining in Gaza, the current government’s representatives are not interested in meeting with the families and have abandoned the value of mutual responsibility.  It is tragic to see that this value is vanishing among the so-called leaders of Israel today. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are demonstrating every Saturday night, and nearly every day now, to keep this value alive in contemporary Israeli society.

Monday, April 8, 2024

A New Israeli Musical Film: Victory

 Victory (Hebrew title: The Victors המנצחים), directed by Eliran Peled, is a musical which takes place in the period following the Six Day War of 1967. The film is a parody about war, about bereavement, and about post-trauma. The musical style parodies the euphoria of the post Six Day War period.  The film uses a number of strategies to emphasize the parody – stylized sets, soundstage musical numbers, black and white period footage, some of which is shot with the actors in the scenes, and clips from an historical anti-war cabaret number (by Hanoch Levin) which was performed to an angry audience at Kibbutz Netzer Sereni in 1968.

Neta (Yael Stollman) is a kibbutznik who decides to leave the kibbutz, with her husband, to move to Tel Aviv to become an actress.  As her star rises, and she gets some big parts, her husband returns from the war with PTSD and her best friend’s husband is killed.  She becomes absorbed in his illness, but the euphoria after the great victory of the IDF in this war wins out.

The film was made last year, but is now showing in Israeli cinemas.  It was particularly difficult watching it during this period of the war in Gaza.  We are so far from being in a euphoric state at this time. Watching the soldiers in this film dancing and singing, seeing the suffering of one soldier with post trauma distress, viewing the brit of a baby born to a newly widowed woman, and watching the anti-war cabaret scene, were all difficult in these troubled times.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Farewell Column by Ronnie Ninio mixes Personal and National Narratives

Farewell Column, directed by Ronnie Ninio, starring Dror Keren, is about serious issues facing Israeli society today.  The entire film takes place during the course of 24 hours in the life of Carmi, a well-known political columnist, who is married with two teenage children.

Produced during the height of the covid-19 pandemic, and shot in black & white, the film interweaves and juxtaposes two parallel issues. The first is on the personal level -- how the covid shut-downs have affected family relationships, such as his relationship with his wife and children, and the tension that is building between his aging parents who are cooped up in their small apartment.  The second is on the national level – the anger on the streets between the right and the left, between those who are demonstrating against Bibi (and scenes in the film are shot against the background of real demonstrations on Balfour St. in Jerusalem) and those who support him, and how Carmi’s burden of responsibility leads him to be critical of the government and to write about the need for change in a country that is being led by a corrupt and indicted prime minister. 

Still relevant today – the film could have been made during the period of the uprising against the judicial coup or it could have been made this week, during the period of anti-Bibi demonstrations by all of those who want the hostages to come home and the government to be replaced.  It’s strange how some things never change.

Although a bit slow-moving, Farewell Column is a serious political drama about critical contemporary issues.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Difficulties of Being a Refugee

Running on Sand, directed by Adar Shafran, is a wonderfully compelling film about refugees in Israel --  how they are treated, the racism that they experience, and the harsh reality of the immigration police and how they track these people down in order to deport them.  In Israel, these refugees are called ‘foreign workers’, a term which denies their political status, and they are all grouped together which makes them basically invisible.

Aumari is an easy-going fellow from Eritrea. He is a long-distance runner, and from the opening sequence, it seems that he ran across all of the desert to reach the border with Israel.  He has been living in Israel for five years, washing dishes for a living, surviving in a shared apartment with other refugees, waiting for his younger brother to join him.  One day, he is caught by the immigration police who want to send him to Uganda. Aumari is frightened that the Ugandans will ship him back to Eritrea, which he knows is a death sentence.

Using his wits, Aumari is able to outsmart the immigration police at the airport.  But he runs into a new complication when he is greeted by the fans of Maccabi Netanya’s soccer team, who are awaiting the arrival of their newest player from Nigeria.  Overnight, he becomes a big soccer star.  But he doesn’t really know or understand the rules of soccer. And thus begins the really compelling part of the film.

As Aumari is trying to make the situation work for him, the film turns into a comedy.  In fact, there are some buffoons on the soccer team, who help with the comic elements – such as the German player who is constantly repeating the swear words in Hebrew and Arabic, and the religious fellow who likes to instruct everyone in the Torah by telling them that you must love the stranger in your midst! 

Aumari is a special type of fellow, able to befriend people, make people laugh, and he succeeds in helping the captain of the team understand how to get everyone to work together.  He even develops a special relationship with the somewhat quirky daughter of the owner of the team. But Aumari understands that permanent status in Israel is elusive and he must return to being a refugee.

It is interesting to note that the remarkable African actors in the film who are playing refugees are actually refugees themselves.

Running on Sand is available from Picture Tree International.