Today, I was asked by a journalist if there is a link to the fact that Israelis are making films about the war in Lebanon while Americans are making films about the war in Iraq. Obviously, our issues and concerns are interlinked. Just as Americans and Europeans are aware of the issues in the Middle East, so too, Israelis follow closely developments in Iraq. That does not mean that our anti-war films are actually films condemning the war in Iraq. Rather, it means that filmmakers in Israel have a heightened consciousness about the futility of war because of the reality here, and also because of what goes on in Iraq.
We can see a similar link concerning films dealing with migrant workers. I've been attending the Haifa International Film Festival this week. While I always make it my top priority to go and see new Israeli films when I'm at this festival, I also try to catch as many international films as possible. In one day, I saw three different yet equally compelling feature films – one Israeli, one Italian/Romanian and one French -- all dealing with issues of foreign workers!
Ricky (Francois Ozon, France/Italy, 2009) is the story of a love affair between a French woman and a Spanish immigrant factory worker, and how their relationship is tested when they have a child with special needs. Black Sea (Federico Bondi, Italy/ Romania/ France, 2008) is the story of Angela, a Romanian woman who works as a companion/care-taker for a bitter widow in Florence, and the strong mother-daughter bond that is slowly created between them. While Angela takes care of the older woman physically, the woman handles Angela's emotional needs.
Very different from both of these films is the new Israeli film, Bena (Niv Klainer, 2009), which is about a complex and intimate father-son relationship that changes radically when Bena, a Thai worker, becomes part of the equation. The father, in his loneliness, is attracted to this quiet, restrained and modest woman, and his son, in a violent attack, takes what his father wants. Surprisingly, the film makes a parallel between the foreign worker and the schizophrenic son, both of whom are virtually locked up at home, unable to break out of their small and circumscribed realities. If they do break out somehow, they would inevitably be institutionalized – the boy in a hospital and the foreign worker in a prison. The film is a tour-de-force for both Shmulik Vilozhny (as the father) and Michael Moshonov (as the son).
Bena is available from Transfax Films, firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional quality Israeli films of recent years that deal with issues of foreign workers include: Noodle (Ayelet Menahemi, 2007), Foreign Sister (Dan Wolman, 2000) and James' Journey to Jerusalem (Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, 2003).