"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.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Seven Blessings by Ayelet Menachemi wins big prizes

Sheva Brachot or Seven Blessings, an award-winning film, directed by Ayelet Menachemi, is about complicated family relationships. The film was the big winner of the Israeli Ophir Awards this year – winning for best director, best film, and best actress (Raymonde Amsallem who also starred in The Future this year).  

It is a film about joy, eating, and drinking, all around a family simcha.  But also, behind the façade of the joy, lies a story of jealousies, resentment and family secrets. This is a comedy/drama, a stupendous Moroccan family story that takes place in 1990s Israel.

The main character, Marie, lives in Paris, and comes with her fiancé to Israel to celebrate her wedding with her family members all present.  The film opens with the wedding and the first thing we see is that, when the rabbi calls for the bride’s mother, two mothers hold hands to help her lift her veil and drink the wine. And thus begins a story of two sisters, one who was childless, and one who was blessed with many children. Back in Morocco, the sister with many children gave away one of her children to her childless sister.  The child who was given away was Marie.  She was brought up in a dour household, as against the boisterous household of her parents and her siblings.  And she has many resentments until this day.

As we go from celebration to celebration, marking all the nights of the week following the wedding, we meet all of Marie’s siblings, each with their own problems.  One drinks too much.  One is having fertility treatments.  One is falling out of love with her taxi-driver husband.  I loved the scenes in which everyone talked over everyone else and the way the members of the family so easily moved between speaking Moroccan Arabic, French and Hebrew.

The filmmaker, Ayelet Menachemi, also made Noodle (previously reviewed on this blog), one of my favorite Israeli feature films, also about a strong woman character.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

About Golda and the Trials and Tribulations of the Yom Kippur War of 1973

Last year at this time, I wrote a magazine article for the Jerusalem Post about why Israeli filmmakers haven’t made so many films about the Yom Kippur War.  I talked about the fact that the War in Lebanon, and the critique of it, lent itself much more to critical and satirical filmmaking.  The 1973 Yom Kippur War, on the other hand, since it represented a national trauma, was more of a sacred cow and therefore mostly overlooked by filmmakers. 

This year, with the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War coming up later this month, Israeli society has finally decided to face it head-on in filmmaking (and in major supplements to the Israeli newspapers and on public television).   Two major feature films have been released this year on the subject. 

I’ve already written about The Stronghold, directed by Lior Chefetz, which was a hard-hitting war film about an outpost south of the Suez Canal which was overwhelmed by Egyptian forces on the first days of the war.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see Golda, directed by Guy Nattiv, which provides an intense look during that war at the decision-making by the government leadership -- Golda Meir and members of her cabinet. This is a powerful, persuasive and poignant  film, especially now.  Even though it is not officially classified as an “Israeli film” since it is not made by an Israeli production company, it is nonetheless filled with Israeli subject matter, actors and, of course, the director himself. The real power of the film lies in its protagonist -- Helen Mirren plays the lead role in an overwhelmingly convincing performance.  She brings us into the head and heart of Golda, who was sick with cancer and was getting treatment throughout the war, as we learn from the film, while she was grappling with the problems of the surprise attack and managing the war.

For those who need reminding – the 1973 Yom Kippur War began with a two-pronged surprise attack against Israel.  The Egyptians attacked along the Suez Canal and the Syrians sent massive numbers of tanks to attack on the Golan Heights. Israel was unprepared for this attack and suffered major losses on both fronts.

In the film, Golda’s chain-smoking can be seen as a visual metaphor for the smoke and haze of the battlefield.  But that is the closest we get to the gore of the war.  This is a film about the cabinet meetings, about the decision-making, about the burden of the terrible cost of young lives, and about the international diplomacy which Golda wielded so audaciously. Known as the Iron Lady, she is here depicted as a complex woman with sensitivity, audacity, and great leadership in a very difficult situation, especially since she relied heavily on military intelligence, which turned out to be very faulty.

The film points a finger at three fascinating elements which led to the tragic loss of life – the hubris of Moshe Dayan who didn’t believe the Arab armies were planning a surprise attack, the information obtained by the Mossad which was ignored and the listening devices of the military intelligence which were mostly unused.   

The entire film is seen in retrospect as Golda testifies in front of the 1974 Agranat Commission, which was tasked to investigate what went wrong in the preparedness and who was to blame for the blunders and mistakes of this war.  Although she was acquitted by the Commission, Golda was largely held to blame by Israeli public opinion.  Perhaps this film will help to re-evaluate her contribution to the State of Israel – both in its early years and also during this critical period of the war.

It is interesting to note that the filmmaker, Guy Nattiv, was himself born in 1973, the year of the Yom Kippur War.  So, this year, when we are marking 50 years since that terrible war, Nattiv is turning 50.  Nattiv won an Oscar for best short film for Skin (2018), which put him in a category with Moshe Mizrachi – two Israeli filmmakers who have won Oscars.  Nattiv’s previous feature films (which have been reviewed on this blog) include: The Flood (2010) about a family dealing with a special needs child, and two films in collaboration with Erez Tadmor – Strangers (2008) about forbidden love between a Palestinian and an Israeli who meet abroad and MagicMen (2013) about the relationship between a Holocaust survivor father and his grown son.

I was emotionally wrought after viewing this film. I really felt for Golda, for her personal life and for her commitment to the state of Israel and to the many young soldiers who died during that existential war. Indeed, the filmmaker dedicated this film to them. I was reminded, once again, of the terrible costs of war, and therefore of the need for peacemaking, to avoid such terrible wars in the future.


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

A New Feature Film about the Haredi Community

 Home, directed by Benny Fredman, screenplay written by Benny Fredman and Dror Keren, is a film about greed and hypocrisy within the Jerusalem haredi community.  The story is about a newly-wed couple, Yair and Nava, who are trying to find their way by building a mutually understanding relationship and a warm and loving home.  The story is based on a real event that happened to the filmmaker, when he was a young man, living with his new wife in Geula, which is an over-crowded, haredi neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem. 

The film begins with Yair studying at a kolel (yeshiva) for married men, but he is dreaming of opening a computer store.  When he opens his first store, he is met with a few surprises.  One of them is Nava’s disappointment at the fact that her husband is no longer a torah scholar.  Another is the neighborhood committee which is demanding protection money under the guise of inspecting that he isn’t selling anything that will undermine the morals of the community’s young people.  Yair agrees immediately to selling only computers and MP-3 players (remember those?) which are not connected to the internet or to radio.  As his business grows, the amount of protection money doubles.  Then the terms change, and the committee wants a bigger pound of flesh, but Yair isn’t so willing to play the game. 

In his remarks following the screening of his film, the filmmaker said: “I tried to show both sides, the side of the hero and the side of the head of the neighborhood committee who wants to protect the children of the neighborhood.  I tried to show the complexity of a man who finds himself fighting against his community, his family, everything he knows.”

Home (110 minutes, 2023) is a gripping thriller, with wonderful pacing. The viewer is drawn in and really cares about the characters who are seen with depth and lots of personality.  But most importantly, it is a based-on-real-life look at navigating one’s life within a tight-knit haredi community. The film is available from Go2Films. 


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Prizewinning film, The Future, by Noam Kaplan

 The Future, written and directed by Noam Kaplan, was a prizewinner at the Tribeca Fim Festival, June 2023. 

Noam Kaplan’s previous feature film, Manpower, was about migrant workers living in South Tel Aviv. Check out what I wrote about it on this blog.

His new film, The Future, is a provocative film about women, about the Occupation, and about our future, here in Israel-Palestine.

A Palestinian young woman named Yaffa has been arrested for the assassination of the Minister of Space and Tourism. In fact, in the opening scene, Yaffa (played by a Palestinian actress named Samar Qupty) is brought by a police investigator to re-enact the scene in which she shot and killed the minister.
  Later, the Security Services bring her to the clinic of Nurit (played by Reymonde Amsallem), a futuristic profiler who can supposedly identify potential terrorists and thereby prevent terrorist incidents. Since Nurit didn’t succeed in foretelling Yaffa’s attack on the minister, she is meant to interrogate her in order to better understand what went wrong. 

In her series of meetings with Yaffa, she tries to delve into what kind of relationship she had with her mother, what kind of childhood she had, what motivated her to acquire a gun and to decide to assassinate the minister.  At the same time, she is learning a lot about herself, about her relationship with her own mother and about her desire to have a child.

All of this is told on the background of the entire country waiting to learn of the success of an Israeli spaceship named “The Hope” on its way to the moon. 

Highly critical of the Occupation, The Future offers a shocking look at our future.  Can there be any hope? The film is available from GumFilms.


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Stronghold by Lior Chefetz

Next month we will be marking the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  It is interesting that not many feature films (except for Amos Gitai’s Kippur) were made about this war.  The war in Lebanon, in contrast, had the honor of having a plethora of films made on the subject.  Perhaps this is because the Yom Kippur War was a trauma in our past and filmmakers were unsure about dealing with the sacred cows of heroism and martyrdom on the background of such trauma.  This year, however, we have two important films that deal with that time.  The first is the international feature film, Golda, starring Helen Mirren and directed by Guy Nattiv.  The second is The Stronghold (המזח), directed and written by Lior Chefetz, about heroism and surrender, on the background of the Yom Kippur War.

The Stronghold is based on a true story, inspired by a book by Dr Nahum Werbin, about soldiers during the Yom Kippur War who fell into the hands of the Egyptians, and after 40 days in captivity were eventually returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange. Dr. Werbin became a well-known surgeon at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. In this story, based on true events which took place at a desolate outpost on the famous “Bar Lev line”, the soldiers, under surprise attack, are forced to decide whether to follow the leadership of their young and idealistic commander or whether to listen to the more level-headed doctor who is doing reserve duty at their outpost.  This results in a test of their deepest values. 

The story moves forward and backward in time – therefore there are no spoilers -- switching between the war and events that followed it, including the captivity, the interrogations of Dr. Werbin after he returns from 40 days in Egyptian captivity, and the anxiety and worry of the soldiers’ families back home.  According to the filmmaker, “The personal events blend with the national ones in order to create a rich and emotional experience… This conflict is especially relevant today, since the Israeli experience is built around that tension between the individual and the nation: the rights of the individual to freedom and independence, and in the face of mutual responsibility and sacrifice for the benefit of all.”

This is a hard-hitting war film, with all the grit and grime and blood that goes along with war.  It is extremely well-done – the acting, the screenplay, the directing, and the editing are all excellent.  If you liked Michael Aloni in Shtissel and in Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, you’ll appreciate him here, as the complex main character, Dr. Werbin, who is assigned in his reserve duty to report to this outpost, on Erev Yom Kippur. 

The film provides in-depth characters -- there is Shlomo, the young commander of the outpost, whose father is a survivor of Auschwitz, and is so proud of his son, an officer in the Jewish army; there is the radio operator who wants to study art; there is Avihail, the young religious soldier assigned to the outpost from the rabbinate; and there is Dr. Nahum Werbin whose wife is pregnant with their first child.  He is working desperately to save the lives of the wounded and to prepare them for evacuation.  But no reinforcements are forthcoming, and there is no evacuation on the horizon. 

As the days go by and there are no medical supplies left, and little food and ammunition, Shlomo is faced with an impossible decision.  The higher command has put the decision about surrender in his hands.  On the one hand, he has been taught to fight to serve his country, and never to surrender.  On the other hand, he has a responsibility to protect the lives of his soldiers. 

Another recent film, Image of Victory, directed by Avi Nesher, is also about surrender in wartime and about the failure of the Israeli military command to provide full support for the soldiers – both in battle and in surrender. 

According to Nahum Barnea, veteran political columnist for Yediot Aharonot (August 4, 2023), who attended the premiere screening in Tel Aviv, the Stronghold is about whether a soldier has to dedicate his life to his country, or whether his country should give him full support and dedicate itself to him. He explained that this contract is relevant also today as we turn our attention to reserve soldiers who oppose the judicial coup and are threatening to stop volunteering in the reserves. He concluded with: “Fortunately, the drama that took place at the outpost, did not result in a second Masada (a national suicide), rather sanctity of life was victorious over our obsession with heroism.”

The film was dedicated to the filmmaker’s father who served in the Yom Kippur War as a physician in Sinai. Therefore, according to the filmmaker, he was “acquainted with the values and dilemmas of the world of military medicine,” and when he read Dr. Werbin’s memoir, he knew that he had to adapt it into a film.

 As a member of the committee of the Film and Media Collaborative (made up of representatives from three funds: Gesher, Maimonides, and AviChai) which entertains proposals for funding of Israeli films, I am proud to say that we funded this film! It is an inspiring film about critical dilemmas in Israeli society, which also carries a strong  message about the sanctity of life.





Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Life in a Development Town

A new Israeli feature film, Sand Flakes, directed by Gitit Kabiri and Yahel Kabiri, a mother and son team, is about life in a development town.  It also offers a portrait of a compelling family, its vulnerabilities, its sadness, and its joy. 

David is a teenager, living in Dimona, a development town in the south which is windy, sandy and desolate.  His mother is suffering from MS and his father, who works at the Dead Sea Works, is dreaming of leaving and moving to Tel Aviv.  

David is a bright kid who enjoys reading and writing stories. He is a devoted son and big brother. His closest friends seem to be kids that he meets through an on-line chat room where they share the stories they have written.  In a beautifully-written literary style, David writes about his own family’s story, but he hides under a false identity and pretends to be a kid from a wealthy suburb outside of Tel Aviv.

The film offers a compelling look at adolescence, at coping with a physical handicap within the family unit, and the pressures of a development town kid who is trying to fit into Israeli society in general.  

Sand Flakes is distributed by Go2Films.

Monday, July 31, 2023

My Daughter, My Love by Eitan Green

My Daughter, My Love, direction and screenplay by Eitan Green, premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last week.  This is a film about marriage, friendship, and father-daughter relations.

Eitan Green is known to Israeli audiences for his previous films: Lena (1982), When Night Falls (1985), As Tears Go By (1996), Indoors (2006), and It All Begins at Sea (2008).

This new film features Sasson Gabbai in the main role of Shimon, a widower, who has flown to Paris to visit an old friend, Nissim, who has been ill with heart problems and at the same time, to spend time with his married daughter, Alma, and her family.  Nissim seems to be feeling better and together they spend time walking the streets of Paris and talking about their children.  Quickly it becomes apparent that Alma’s marriage is breaking up. Feeling concerned for Alma, who leaves her little baby in his care so she can chase after her lover, he begins to interfere.

If you are a fan of Sasson Gabbai, there is plenty of him in this film, in fact, he’s in just about every scene!  And if you love Paris, there are great scenes of Shimon and Nissim walking the streets of Paris. The story-line is thin, but the character studies are great!