"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.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Noodle by Ayelet Menachemi

Last night at Beit Avi Chai, a cultural center in downtown Jerusalem, we opened our series WOMEN MAKE MOVIES and screened the film Noodle (2007), which was followed by a fascinating discussion with the director, Ayelet Menachemi.

Winner of the Jury Grand Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival, the film stars Mili Avital and Anat Waxman, who are good friends in real life, and play sisters with a very intense and honest relationship. The film is a dramatic and sensitive story about an El Al flight attendant named Miri, whose Chinese housekeeper is suddenly deported, leaving her with the woman's 6-year-old little boy. It is also about Miri's relationship with her sister, and with her sister's estranged husband.

This is a well-scripted (co-scripted by Menachemi and Shemi Zarhin who directed Aviva My Love, which is also about sisters) yet humorous story about the issues of foreign workers, about bereavement, about the bond between sisters, and about learning to love again. Miri learns to love this little Chinese boy, and she is moved to give him back to his mother, especially because she loves him – even if she has to take risks to do it. The film has many dramatic moments, including the scene in which we realize that Miri no longer thinks of the little boy as an alien or a foreigner, but she has become attached to him as a human being. This is a turning point in the film. Miri is twice widowed, having lost both husbands in the wars, and only through the love of this little child does she take the big step of being able to love again. But in addition to the dramatic moments, the film has a lot of sarcasm between the sisters, and humor and emotion with the little boy.

The audience was enthusiastic about the film, and enjoyed the discussion with Menachemi. She discussed how difficult it was to find the right little boy to play the part of Noodle. They worked with a casting agency in Hong Kong who had a list of about 2,000 boys. However, they recognized the right boy immediately! He was 7 1/2 years old at the time of the shooting, and they had to work with him through a translator. In a particularly touching scene when he talks to his mother who is far away in Beijing, his voice cracks and he cries. It was a triumph of acting. In trying to help him to get into the right mood, the translater told him a story of a friend of hers who died in a car crash. But it didn't help him. So, completely by himself, he wove a story about not being able to see his own mother, and it helped him to do the scene. He was so proud when he got it right. When Menachemi tried to get him to admit that he really did a great job, he said that his mother always taught him not to develop too much pride.

When asked whether the story of the film was based on a true story, Menachemi talked about different fragments from her own life experiences. When the immigration issue became very heavy in Israel during the early part of this decade, and the immigration police had a quota of people to deport each year, she became interested in stories of deportation. This story didn't actually happen, but stories like it did. She went to the immigration people to ask if this story was possible and they helped her. In addition, she traveled in China about 15 years ago, and it left a huge impression on her. "No one speaks real English there – you have to find other ways to communicate and have to use emotional intelligence to get along. I felt this was how our boy must have felt without language." Finally, she met an El Al flight attendant who had lost 2 husbands in war. All of these elements come together in the film.

This is a story of one woman who can make a difference. Sometimes we shirk our responsibilities by denying the capacity of each and every one of us to do tikun olam. Here is an amazing woman who takes a risk to make the world a better place. According to Menachemi, taking a risk and reuniting the boy with his mother was a redemptive act.

The film is available from: israelifilms@gmail.com

1 comment:

Ellen said...

We go to see Israeli films, screened at our local JCC, as a gift to the community by the Jewish Federation of Delaware, no charge. So, we know most of the people in the audience. In fact, most are members of our shul. And the post-Noodle reaction of everyone we talked to was that Noodle is a film about the miraculous return of a Chinese boy to his migrant worker mother deported to Beijing brought about by the courageous Miri, a twice-widowed childless woman, learning to love again after a life of tragedies. But, I think Noodle is a film about two sisters, Miri and Gila. Yes, their relationship is only the subtext of the movie, but it's also the vehicle that the playwright uses to explain Miri's depression and isolation. The sisters' relationship is so complex, so real, weaving between anger and love, jealousy and humor, grief and acceptance. How I'd love to see how these two sisters go on with their lives! Maybe they can visit Noodle in Beijing for the next film.