"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

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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer of Comedy

It's funny how these things work out.  The summer of 2014 has been one of war, yet there are four new comedies in Israeli movie houses.  In fact, it seems that comedy as a genre is replacing war films, at last!  The comedies include: Zero Motivation (already reviewed on this blog),  Kicking Out Shoshana, The Farewell Party and Hill Start.

Hill Start, first feature film by Oren Stern, is a quirky feel-good comedy on the subject of the family.  In contrast to other films about the family which have been mostly dramas, this one is a comedy about father-son relations, commitment, marriage, communication and compromise.  The family is an upper-middle class family , in which father and son are plastic surgeons who work together yet competitively (reminiscent of Footnote, in which the father and son worked in the same profession but were in competition with each other -- in fact, in both films, the father is played by Shlomo Bar Abba).   Mother and daughter also work together -- they both teach at the same high school -- the mother is the sports teacher and the daughter teaches Arabic.  

The story develops around the love life of the surgeon-son, who is in engaged to marry a girl from a lower socio-economic group (not to mention that she's a manipulative yet loveable Sephardi stereotype), and the teacher-daughter, who is infatuated with Arabic language and culture. 

There is a fair amount of complexity and there is something for everyone -- yoga, driving lessons, the Jerusalem marathon, romance, humor, and just a bit of tits and sex -- after all, this is an Israeli film!
The entire story takes place in Jerusalem, with views that make it truly memorable.   As you watch the film, see if you can pick out familiar streets and sites!

Hill Start was made by United King Films.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Holocaust Survivors

There has been much written about the loneliness and poverty of aging Holocaust survivors in Israel.  Letter from the Past, a short drama (47 minutes) by Ofer Zingerman, sheds light on these issues.

Menachem is a Holocaust survivor, a watch repairman, living in Tel Aviv.  When he receives a letter that had been lost at the post office for 30 years, it brings back memories of a time past.  This is a slow and compelling study of an aging man, his fear of the thugs who exploit the elderly people in his neighborhood, and his memories of his family from so long ago. As his story is slowly revealed, we are drawn in and feel for his sad existence.  

Letter from the Past is available from RuthDiskin.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Felix Tikotin

Many people have strolled along the Carmel in Haifa and wondered why the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art is located there.  The story of the Museum can be found within the life story of Felix Tikotin (1893-1986), a German Jew who dedicated his entire life to collecting, exhibiting and trading in Japanese art.  

Tikotin: A Life Devoted to Japanese Art, directed by Santje Kramer, is a fascinating documentary film that tells the story of  his life.  Tikotin came to Berlin as a young man where he studied architecture, was drafted into World War I, and then became a trader in Japanese art.  He enjoyed traveling, and as a young man went to Japan via the Trans Siberian Railway and then continued by boat.  He purchased whatever Japanese art he could find and he organized exhibitions. 

It's interesting that I found this film so intriguing -- perhaps because it is a personal and compelling story, and also because Tikotin himself was an interesting character, especially due to the fact that he was a European Jew, obsessed with Japanese art and culture decades before it became trendy.

In his personal life, Tikotin was married with three daughters.  Even though the family survived the Holocaust by going into hiding in Holland during the war, there was tragedy in the family, and in some ways, his art collection was more a part of who he was than his family.  

During the post-war period, Tikotin found it difficult to rebuild his business because people weren't interested in art from Japan, so he was forced to work hard to promote interest in Japanese culture.   During his life, there were some problems with authenticity of the prints that he sold.  Nonetheless, he was considered to be a major collector of Japanese art and today, his collection is located in two major museums -- a museum in Japan that acquired a large amount of his collection, and the Tikotin Museum in Haifa which he established in 1960. 

This is the story of a man whose life included tragedy and loneliness, but who had a very special aesthetic sense when it came to art and business.

Tikotin:  A Life Devoted to Japanese Art (documentary, 76 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zero Motivation

In her first feature film, director Talya Lavie has created a quirky, yet brilliant, comedy/satire which takes place in the human resources office (run by female soldiers) on an Israeli military base in the Negev desert.  Zero Motivation takes place during an earlier period before smartphones and before the army was fully computerized.

The story deals with the ridiculous and mindless paper pushing jobs often given to the young women.  But more importantly, the film is about gender in the military.  These young women are assigned to serve coffee and cookies to the male officers who are actually running the show.  Also, the most insightful and critical scenes in the film portray issues of gender -- one deals with unrequited love and its potential consequences and the other with attempted rape. 

This is not a sophisticated film, in fact, much of the behavior of the young women can be characterized as childish, catty and whining, and much of the script seems so predictable.  But, it is an insightful satirical comment about the army.  When these women wield their automatic weapons -- staple guns -- watch out!  It is certainly an enjoyable farce which lends insight into the situation of females in the Israeli military.  

Zero Motivation was a prizewinner at Tribeca and is available from the Match Factory.