"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.

amykronish@gmail.com

Monday, July 27, 2020

Streaming Israeli Films


Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the Israeli film distributor called Go2Films.   During these difficult times, when many of us are staying at home as much as possible, Go2Films is offering a VOD service which includes many of their major releases of recent years.  See their VOD collection here .

Some of the films that have been reviewed on this blog that can be seen on VOD include (hot links to my reviews are provided):

Documentaries:
  • Ben Gurion Epilogue, directed by Yariv Mozer,  is a fascinating documentary which makes use of a previously unknown interview which was conducted in 1968 by Clinton Bailey, then a young American journalist.  
  • Women in Sink, directed by Iris Zaki, is a creative documentary about multi-ethnic clientele at a hair salon in Haifa.  
  • Café Nagler, directed by Mor Kaplanski  reveals the story of a Jewish family which owned a Berlin café in the 1920s.


TV Series
  • Arab Labor, seasons 3 and 4, scripted by Sayed Kashua, a humorous TV series which provides a glimpse at the life of an Israeli Palestinian journalist trying to navigate his way within Israeli society.


Feature films:
  • Eli and Ben, directed by Ori Ravid (2008),  is a feature film about adolescence.  It is also about corruption in Israeli society, as seen through the eyes of Eli, a savvy 12-year-old from Herzliyah, whose personal moral standards are unabashedly high and he demands the same of others.
  • Doubtful, directed by Eliran Elya (2017)   Forced to do community service after having hurt someone in a drunken driving accident, Assi is sent to work with a bunch of problem juveniles in Beersheba. This is the story of the relationship that he forms with one of the youngsters.
  • Present Continuous, directed by Aner Preminger and script by Orit Kimel (2013), is about the difficulties of letting your children grow up and become independent, especially when you are living in a constant state of anxiety and siege.  This is a delicate study of a woman in crisis.  It is also an intense and beautiful look at her relationship with her husband and her teenage children.
  • Echo, directed by Amikan Kovner and Assaf Shnir (2018), is a compelling feature film about the relationship between a husband and wife. The husband becomes obsessed with trying to understand his wife and her comings and goings.
  • AKA Nadia, directed by Tova Ascher (2015), is a complex narrative film about issues of identity, racism and intolerance. 
  • An Israeli Love Story, directed by Dan Wolman (2017), set in 1947 during the tumultuous period of the end of the British Mandate, the film tells a strikingly human story of the love affair between between a young man and a young woman mixing a private story with the national narrative.  
  • Outdoors (Bayit B’Galil), directed by Assaf Saban (2018), provides a compelling look at a marriage.  The film takes place and was shot over the course of a year -- we watch as a house is built and a marriage slowly collapses. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Recipe for Failure


The modern orthodox world in Israel has been unforgiving towards any young man who is grappling with being gay.  The rabbis at the yeshivot have pushed these students to marry anyway, because, according to them, the most important thing in life is to have a family and children.  But these marriages are a recipe for failure.  A new documentary film, Marry Me However, directed by Mordechai Vardi, explores this community’s attitude towards this issue.

Yarden Naor divorced his wife when he realized that he wasn’t going to change. Zvi Ben Meir admits that he knew he wasn’t attracted to his wife, but he married her anyway. Some of the yeshiva boys admit to having undergone conversion therapy, so that they could live a “normal” life. These marriages didn’t take the woman and her needs into the equation.  In fact, she was sacrificed on the altar of what the rabbis in this community thought would be the right thing to do! 

In interviews with some rabbis, we see that they are being pushed to stand up and say that homosexual young men should no longer be encouraged to get married to a woman.  Some well-known rabbis in the film, including Rabbi Ronen Lubitsch and Rabbi Yuval Sherlow, show great understanding in this area.  Rabbi Sherlow admits that today he would never push a gay young man or a lesbian woman towards a normative marriage, as he used to in the past. He realizes that being gay or lesbian is not a mental disorder, but rather part of a person’s identity and they are not about to change or deny that identity.  We must accept people for who they are, he says. 

The film includes varied religious points of view, and not all of them offer solutions within the religious context.  Although the film is a standard documentary with too many talking heads, the viewer is provided with a greater understanding of the issues as they were experienced by the young men and women in the film.

Marry Me However is a documentary film, produced for HOT channel 8.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Conflicting Narratives


Tangled Roots (שיעור מולדת), directed by Anat Zeltzer and narrated by Modi Bar-On, is a documentary TV series which offers a broad history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The series uses both Jewish and Palestinian academics in an attempt at providing an even-handed discussion of both points of view, what might be commonly called the “double narrative”.  The series, which was surprisingly balanced in its portrayal of both sides in the conflict, is quite thorough, hard-hitting and filled with historical detail.

In Episode One – we see two nationalisms developing, side by side.  The episode spans a period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the British Mandate, and shows how conflicting promises by the British to both the Jews and the Arabs in the region added to the beginnings of the conflict. 

In Episode Two – we see how Palestinian nationalism arose in the 1920s as a result of the British pro-Zionist policies, especially the Balfour Declaration. It is interesting to learn about the Brit Shalom group which recognized the Arab nation living in Palestine and suggested that we live in peaceful equality.  But the volatile and intertwined issues of religion and nationality didn’t make that vision a possibility.  The riots of 1929 in Jerusalem and Hebron were a turning point and the film uses archival footage – from then and now – to illustrate the explosive nature of developments in the region. Thus the viewer can see that the nature of the conflict, which began back in the 1920s, continues to this very day.

Tangled Roots is available from Go2Films. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Critical Look at the Ma'abarot


Ma’abarot – The Israeli Transit Camps, directed by Dina Zvi Riklis, narrated by Yael Abecassis, is a very hard-hitting and highly critical documentary look at the treatment that new immigrants to Israel received during the early years after the establishment of the state.  This is a story of racism and oppression.

When masses of new immigrants began to flood the gates of the country – from Arab lands and from Europe – temporary tent camps were built to house them.  These tent camps were later replaced with shacks.  Some of the immigrants lived in these camps for more than 10 years, which is shocking to think about since the conditions were so terrible. 

In a well-documented manner, the film reveals the story through interviews with historians, archival footage, government documents, newspaper clippings, and most crucially, personal stories told by individuals talking about their memories and traumas from that time.  These personal stories make up the most important part of the film – retelling memories that can bring you to tears.  There are the stories of siblings who suddenly disappear, kidnapped by health workers who were somehow convinced that these children were better off removed from their parents’ households.  There are the humiliations of being sprayed with DDT and terribly painful hot wax treatments to remove ringworm.  There are the stories of children removed from their families and sent to kibbutzim for schooling, where they were looked down upon and their culture and music were denied. They were forced to speak only Hebrew and when they went home to visit their parents in the transit camps they often found themselves ashamed of them and their broken Hebrew.

Originally, these transit camps held a diverse group of immigrants from countries such as Iraq, Romania, Turkey, Morocco and Holocaust survivors from Poland. There was a clear inequality in the treatment of the immigrants -- the Ashkenazi immigrants received housing within two years, and the Mizrahi immigrants (Jews from Arab lands) were left behind to wallow in the terrible conditions of the camps.  This situation was compounded by the influx of reparations monies which permitted so many survivors to buy their own homes and cars.  Not that they didn’t deserve these monies, but it helped to create a large middle class, leaving the Mizrahi immigrants even farther behind.

Ma’abarot, a documentary film (83 minutes), tells of poverty, hardships, suicides and despair, all of which are part of a terrible story of mistreatment at the hands of the authorities – a story that needs to be told and remembered.  The film is available from Go2Films.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Transgender


Melting Away, directed by Doron Eran, is a surprisingly sensitive and compelling film about how one family copes with the subject of transgender.  The script has the right amount of complexity, and shows a great deal of sensitivity. 

When Shlomo discovers that his teenage son, Assaf, is gay, he locks him out of the house.  Four years later, Shlomo is dying of cancer, and Assaf’s mother goes looking for her son, so he can come to reconnect with his father.  She hires a private investigator, who discovers that Assaf, now named Anna, is a stunning and talented singer, performing in a Tel Aviv club. 

Notwithstanding the anger Anna still harbors towards her parents, she seems to have grown up to be a wonderful human being.  The next day Anna appears at her father’s hospital bed and tells him that she is a private nurse, sent by his insurance company.  Apparently not recognizing her, Shlomo agrees to have her take care of him, and as a result, father and daughter spend a lot of time together, talking about family issues and sharing moments of intimacy. 

The film highlights two kinds of mothers.  Anna’s gay friend Shimi, who is so afraid of telling his mother about his lifestyle, eventually tells her that he is gay and he discovers that she can be surprisingly accepting.  Anna’s own mom, on the other hand, has let the rigidity and hatefulness of her husband keep her away from her child for so many years.  This has caused what seems to be an irreparable rift within the family.

Melting Away (85 minutes) is available from Go2Films.  
Stay at home and watch on-line (for a small fee).

If you are interested in other films on this subject, check out the highly recommended documentary, entitled Transkids, directed by Hilla Medalia, previously reviewed on this blog.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Issues of Married Life


Echo, directed by Amikan Kovner and Assaf Shnir, is a compelling feature film about the relationship between a husband and wife. 

Avner is the supervisor of a construction crew, working on a tunnel in Haifa.  He is married to Ella, a psychologist, and they have two children.  

When a traffic ticket arrives in the mail with a photo of Ella driving and a strange man sitting next to her, Avner becomes obsessed with the thought that his wife might be cheating on him.  He begins taping her phone conversations, even following her. As he tries to understand his wife, he listens to the phone conversations over and over, and begins to realize that things were more complex than they seemed, that there was so much about his wife that he didn’t understand.

The film has wonderful complexity – there is Avner’s ambivalent relationship with his co-worker, the 12-year-old daughter’s newly awakening sexual curiosity, the mother of Ella’s patient who committed suicide more than a year ago, Ella’s need to be saved as she tosses off her clothes and runs into the sea late one night. 

Things unravel like a thriller, as Avner slowly works out the secrets of Ella’s life. 

Echo (2018, 98 minutes) is a complex and sensitive film about a man obsessed who tries to work out whether we ever really know the person we love most in the world.  Are there hidden aspects to their character, to their lives? In an apparently happy family, are there elements that we keep hidden from one another?

The film is available from Go2Films.
Stay at home and watch on-line (for a small fee).




Tuesday, April 28, 2020

DocuCorona


This is a new website (in Hebrew) -- DocuCorona -- offering Israeli documentaries, available for free or almost free viewing during this period.

You can choose from the literally tens of films on a wide array of subjects.  I have chosen the following two documentaries (both include English) to highlight --

The Holy Gathering, directed by Nahum Grinberg and Naamit Mor Haim (64 minutes, documentary), is a fascinating look at the phenomenon of young men, brought up on Kibbutz Bet Zera, which is a Hashomer HaTzair kibbutz, who have become newly religious in recent years. The kibbutz originally subscribed to an anti-religious ideology, and it seems that perhaps as a result of that, these young people are searching for meaning, and eventually finding their way to religion.  The older generation is quite disappointed and even outraged as a result. Among other subjects, the film describes the experience of growing up in the children’s house, which created a void in the lives of the young people. 
You can watch the film on Youtube!


Dancing in Jaffa, directed by Hilla Medalia, (previously reviewed on this blog), is a touching full-length (87 minutes) documentary about breaking barriers between Jewish and Palestinian youngsters in Jaffa.   The film Is available for streaming for 48 hours for a small fee