"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, June 12, 2019

Tel Aviv on Fire

Tel Aviv on Fire, directed by Sameh Zoabi, opened this week in Israeli movie theaters.  It has already garnered awards both in Israel and abroad. The film is a superb satire about the absurdity of the Occupation, the humiliation of the checkpoints, and the chutzpah of some of the Israelis who try to make decisions for the Palestinians about what is best for them, especially IDF officers at the checkpoints.

Working for his uncle on a Palestinian soap opera, Salem has to drive regularly from Jerusalem to Ramallah to be on the set as a Hebrew dialogue consultant.  The soap opera is set on the background of the Six Day War of 1967 and is apparently popular with both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli audiences. The story is about a Palestinian woman terrorist/freedom fighter (depends on your point of view) who is assigned to seduce an Israeli general.

As Salem advances to become a scriptwriter for the TV series, we watch as he takes the story from real life and adapts it cleverly for the TV screen.  There is some romance – both in the story of the soap opera and in Salem’s own life. Yet, the strongest parts of the film can be found in the political commentary (some of it not-so-subtle, in fact quite sharp and biting), especially in the comments of the uncle about the ongoing Occupation which controls so much of Palestinian daily life in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In addition, the film has a brilliant ending, which I will not reveal here, but leaves the viewer with the realization that the struggle by Palestinians against the Occupation will continue until it is over.

The actors in this film are all excellent, especially the lead Palestinian actor, Kais Nashif, who plays his role as someone who is seemingly aimless and easily led by others. Things get a bit out of hand when Salem turns to the commanding officer at the checkpoint -- where he finds himself humiliated on a daily basis – for advice on the character of the 1967 Israeli general.  As a result, we find Salem caught between the checkpoint officer’s view of things and his uncle’s need for underlying messages supporting the Palestinian struggle.

The filmmaker, Sameh Zoabi, is a Palestinian Israeli, who grew up in Iksal, an Arab village in the Galilee, and lives both in the USA and Israel. In a feature article by Nirit Anderman about him which appeared in the Haaretz magazine in Hebrew and in the English Haaretz this week, he shared some of his thoughts about making this film.  When asked about his responsibility to his people as a director and screenwriter, he responded, “I try to create from a very personal place… We have a greater responsibility than Jewish Israelis because our narrative is not so well known.”

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Crazy Comedy

All In, directed by Yonatan Bar-Ilan, is a low-brow comedy/road movie about four friends from junior high school days.  Now, almost 20 years later, they enter a poker game against their biggest rival, in order to seek revenge for a major humiliation. 
On the way to the secret venue of the poker game, our four heroes set out on a road trip in memory of the grandfather of one of them who just died recently.  Along the way, they meet all kinds of quirky characters, some of whom help them in strange ways.  The story includes good music, a fair amount of vulgarity, hilarious craziness, bumbling cops and obviously some sex and drugs.

Both ridiculous and hilarious, the film offers almost no serious elements whatsoever. Without offering a spoiler, I want to say that the ending of the film redeems it completely!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Shleikes (Yiddish for suspenders), in contemporary Israeli slang, refers to Tuesday movies which are subsidized by the government for senior citizens. 

Love in Suspenders (Ahava Beshleikes), directed by Yohanan Weller, has just been released in the movie theaters in Israel. It is a romantic comedy, starring Yehuda Barkan, Nitza Shaul and Shlomo Bar-Abba.

Tami is a widow in her 60s and Beno is a widower in his 70s.  She is optimistic, always smiling, and still talking to her husband who has been dead for a few years already.  Beno is tougher on the outside, but also still suffering from the loss of his wife.  Tami and her husband were successful singers so now she lives comfortably in a beautiful retirement home.  He, on the other hand, is finding it hard to pay the monthly rent.  Notwithstanding their differences in lifestyle and personality, and their interfering offspring and neighbors, they eventually fall in love. 

Although light fare, the film, produced by United King, is sentimental, often funny and quite touching! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Uncovering a Police Cover-up

Cause of Death, directed by Ramy A. Katz, is a compelling documentary look at a family’s need to know the truth about how their son died.  This is the story of a Druze policeman who gave his life in the line of duty, and his brother who is desperately trying to understand the true story of what happened that day.

The Israeli Druze community is known for its loyalty to the State of Israel and the men of the community serve in the army and the police.  

In March, 2002, during the 2nd Intifada, police Sgt. Major Salim Barakat, died trying to stop a terrorist attack at a Tel Aviv restaurant.  Salim was declared a hero and his brother, Jamal, has been attending annual ceremonies in his memory.

Cause of Death proceeds with suspense and takes us along a journey as Jamal considers all the possibilities.  Even though the police consider his brother to be a hero because he made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting people at that restaurant that day, it is not enough for Jamal and his family.  Jamal feels that the trauma lives on, even after so many years, and he needs to know the truth.

In this photo, we see Jamal carrying his brother’s police records and mementos, to his home in the village of Yarka in the north of Israel. 

Jamal suspects that something is amiss in the story that the police have reported to his family.  Did Salim kill the terrorist?  If so, then who killed him?  Since his brother was dressed in civilian clothing, it was not clear whether he was killed by the terrorist or by an armed civilian who saw an Arab and mistook him for the terrorist himself.  Was the security establishment trying to cover up this flagrant act of racism? 

The film tells a fascinating story, 79 minutes, and is available from Go2Films.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Menachem Begin’s Political Heritage

Begin: The Leadership Years, directed by Levi Zini, is a fascinating three-part documentary series, produced for broadcast on Israel TV.

Menachem Begin was elected prime minister in May 1977 in what was considered a tremendous political upheaval.  His days in the prime minister’s office and his Likud party changed the face of Israel forever.  Using a wealth of archival materials and many interviews, this documentary series provides a fascinating look at Menachem Begin’s particular brand of moderate politics. 
The first episode deals with his extraordinary vision in making peace with Sadat.  This month, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of that amazing event.  

This episode has already been broadcast on Israel TV.  You can see it here on youtube (no English subtitles).  

Two additional episodes will be broadcast on Israel TV on April 3 and April 10.

My husband was particularly impressed by the two episodes which we saw at the Jerusalem Cinematheque this week.  You can see his article, published today, about this series and about Menachem Begin on the Times of Israel website.

I sit on the joint film fund of the Gesher Multi-cultural Film Fund and the AviChai Foundation and I am proud to say that we provided some funding towards this important documentary series.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Film to be Missed

Synonyms by Nadav Lapid recently won the FIPRESCI Award (International Federation of Film Critics) at 2019 Berlin Film Festival.  The jury described the film as “a highly original work with a sharp wit and subtle political message.”  But I disagree.  I found it terribly disappointing, to the point of offensive.  

The film tells the story of a young man who has left Israel and moved to Paris, where he tries to leave his life and his memories behind.  In an attempt to change his identity entirely, he stops speaking Hebrew, and walks the streets of Paris repeating French vocabulary (hence the title of the film).  The opening scene, which explains why he has no “papers”, or perhaps, no identity, provides us with plenty of male frontal nudity – but that’s not enough of a reason to go see a film!  

There is very little story, no complexity, and disappointing relationships.  There are some flashbacks to his military service, but when inappropriate music is played at a military funeral, even I was offended!

Nadav Lapid’s previous films are TheKindergarten Teacher and The Policeman, both of which have been reviewed on this website.

Friday, March 8, 2019

TV Series

It is becoming so common to binge-watch TV series!  I thought I would draw your attention to the following TV series which I recommend --

  • Fauda
  • When Heroes Fly
  • Shtisel
  • Srugim
  • Nebsu

You can read my reviews here!