"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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cultural Heroes

Alex in Wonderland, by Ori Sivan, is a creative and thought-provoking documentary portrait of the Israeli photographer and photojournalist, Alex Levac, who was awarded the Israel Prize for photography in 2005.  

 Levac is a remarkable photographer, capturing people on the street who reflect the contemporary Israeli reality.  The film shows his work with contrasts -- enabling the viewer to see things in many diverse and interesting ways.  It also gives us insight into the man -- his curiosity, his bashfulness, and his attraction to the margins of society.  We are treated to photos from his years in Brazil, and a shocking  view of life as seen in an entire series of portraits of people at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.

Levac became well-known in Israel with his photo of one of the terrorists who hijacked Bus 300, as he was being led away from the bus.  This was an incident in 1984 in which two terrorists who had hijacked an Israeli public bus were executed by Israeli security service personnel (Shin Bet).  The story was later told that they had been killed in the battle to gain control of the bus.  Levac's photograph of the terrorist, however, proved otherwise and caused an uproar in Israeli society.

The film Alex in Wonderland (53 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films and is part of a series entitled Cultural Heroes.  Other films in this series which have previously been reviewed on this blog are:

  • ·         Gitai - In search of his Carmel by Ran Tal about the filmmaker, Amos Gitai
  • ·         A Stranger in Paris by Nir Bergman about actress and filmmaker, Ronit Elkabetz

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Operation Sunflower, directed by Avraham Kushnir, opens with a suicide bombing and a siren due to the loading of nuclear warheads by Iran.   Most of the film, however, takes place in an historical period --  in the 1950s and early 1960s. As a deterrent against Russia's arming the Arab states and their desire to wipe the state of Israel  off the face of the earth, our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had the chutzpah and the vision to go after  what he and his colleagues regarded as the perfect insurance plan for Israel's continued existence and he chose the nuclear option. 
The well-known Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon stars as the megalomaniac head of the Mossad who will do anything to obtain the nuclear option for Israel.  He negotiates with the French and the Germans and he organizes a team of Israeli scientists to go to Paris to work on the bomb.  Why do the scientists agree to do this work?  One wants it for his own career advancement.  Another wants it in order to be close to one of the other scientists.  Only the chief scientist seems to have doubts and questions concerning his role in the development of the bomb.  

The film includes a great deal of rhetoric about the post-Holocaust need to create a strong and invincible nation.  This explains why the nuclear option was chosen at that time -- not because Israel wanted to be the aggressor in war against her neighbors, but rather in order to ensure that "it would never happen again."  

Why are some  Israelis still obsessed with this subject -- and why are they making a film about it today?  Not only because Iran is looking to arm itself with nuclear weapons, but because many Israelis still see, in every enemy, Nazis who want  to annihilate the Jewish state.

At the end of the film, when the narrative construct returns to the present day, there is a coup in Iran, forcing those who were loading the nuclear warheads to back down, thus avoiding a nuclear disaster.  Notwithstanding the need to prevent Iran from stockpiling nuclear weapons and the winds of change that are blowing there, I much prefer Eytan Fox's perspective in his film Walk on Water, in which his Mossad killer/main character concludes that he just doesn't want to kill anymore.  In the context of that film, it can be interpreted to mean that he just doesn't want to hunt Nazis anymore.  In addition, we are now a strong and powerful nation and he doesn't want to only see the world through a lens of paranoia.   The main character also states  clearly that you don't have to walk on water.  In other words, it's time to stop our obsession with being super-human and all powerful, and just get on with living a normal life.

Operation Sunflower is available in the U.S. from Israeli Films.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Decades of Israeli history as seen in A Place in Heaven

A Place in Heaven, directed by Yossi Madmony, has epic overtones.  As we follow the main character's life through decades of the history of Israel, however, we begin to see that the film is much more an allegory about the choices and character flaws of one man.

In the early years, Bambi (brilliantly played by Alon Aboutboul) was a heroic, reckless and cocky military commander, leading his men in battles against the fedayeen.  As a cynical and secular Israeli, he sold his place in heaven to a young religious soldier who was in awe of him as a great hero of the Jewish people who would certainly have a place of honor in the world to come.  

The film opens with Bambi's death, and the story is told in flashback.  Even though we know when and where he will be killed, we find ourselves being caught up in the drama of whether he will ever be able to regain his place in the world to come and whether he is actually deserving of it in the first place.

The narrative centers around Bambi's personal life -- his love for his Yemenite wife, his relationship with his father-in-law -- set against the ongoing wars of Israel and Bambi's promotions in the Israel army.  But the main drama is about his complex relationship with his son and his son's eventual decision to become religious. 

Yossi Madmony's previous film, Restoration, was also about father-son relations and about memory.  See my review of it on this blog.

A Place in Heaven (2013, 117 minutes) is available in the U.S. from Israeli Films.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"She's Coming Home" is characterized as 'unsettling'

She's Coming Home, directed by Maya Dreifuss, opens this week in Israeli movie theaters.  The narrative is about a 30-something woman named Michal who is at the end of a long relationship with her boyfriend.  She returns home to live with her parents in Herzliyah, supposedly to work on writing a feature film.  Ze'ev is a married man, the principal of the local high school, and much older than Michal.  When he rear ends her car, they meet and begin a relationship. 
This is a film about an adult woman's difficulties living in her childhood home with her  parents  -- it's not surprising that she would come home and not have any privacy and be shocked to notice little things about her parents and their relationship that she hadn't noticed before. This part of the film is filled with humor and much insight and quite well-constructed.  

However, it's also a film that is making a comment about a woman's self- empowerment -- or lack thereof -- about power games between a man and woman.  This part of the film is not easy to watch and honestly, quite infuriating and troubling, since the sex scenes (which seem to abound) reflect the use of violence as an abusive tool in a relationship.

The film won an award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, 2013.  The comments of the jury were as follows:

the jury has selected a bold, unsettling work that challenges the audience to continually re-orient its relationship to its fascinating if often enigmatic characters.
The film stars Tali Sharon as Michal, Alon Aboutboul as the older man and Liora Rivlin as Michal's doting mother.