"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.


Friday, March 5, 2010

The Best of Israeli Cinema

With all the tension and excitement in the air concerning whether or not the Israeli nominee for an Academy Award will win, I've been interviewed already many times by a variety of newspapers and magazines, and been asked over and over for my recommendations of the best Israeli films of the last 10-15 years. Here are my all-time favorites!

The Most Recent Israeli Films nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film
Beaufort, directed by Joseph Cedar, 2007, based on the bestseller by Ron Leshem -- Very realistic and very powerful film about the absurdity and futility of war, set against the background of the pull-out from Lebanon in 1999.

Waltz with Bashir, directed by Ari Folman, 2008 -- combines animation with full-length documentary in order to examine issues of memory, trauma and guilt that arise during wartime. Examines in depth the night of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.

Ajami, directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, 2009 -- about the meeting place between different worlds, between the Palestinians of Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank, and within Israel – between Christians and Muslims, between Jews and Arabs, and between Bedouin and local Arabs. A unique film due to its hard-hitting style, joint direction by a Palestinian and a Jew, and its use of a non-professional cast of characters from the neighborhood of Jaffa where the story takes place, which helped to create an atmosphere of authenticity.

Israeli Classics nominated for Academy Awards in the Past
Sallah, directed by Ephraim Kishon, 1964 – A fast-paced musical, combining comedy and social satire, the film takes place during the years of the mass immigration immediately following the establishment of the state of Israel.

I Love You Rosa, directed by Moshe Mizrachi, 1972 – A love story played out against the strict religious laws of the late 19th century and against the backdrop of the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem. Raises issues concerning traditional Jewish gender roles and the independence of women.

Beyond the Walls, directed by Uri Barbash, 1986 – Portrays Arab political prisoners and Jewish hard-core criminals living side by side in a maximum security prison. Challenging political and social stereotypes and portraying larger-than-life characters, the film presents a metaphor of Arab and Jew being locked up together, both victims of the conflict around them, condemned to mutual acceptance.

The "Matsav" - the Situation
Time of Favor, directed by Joseph Cedar, 2000 - A touching story of young love and a compelling story of the dangers of religious extremism set against the settler movement on the West Bank.

Newly Emerging Images of Women
Noodle, directed by Ayelet Menahemi, 2007 – A wise and funny film about a woman, twice widowed, who is afraid of loving again. Appropriate for all the family.

Jellyfish, directed by Shira Gefen and Etgar Keret (a husband and wife team), 2008 - a quirky and complex film, which is a comment on marriage, memory, alienation in the urban setting, and unfulfilled promises.

Love at Second Sight, directed by Michal Bat-Adam, 1998 -The film tells the story of a woman who becomes obsessed with her search for a man whose image she saw only once. An intergenerational and cultural look at the subject of love, mixing the contemporary period with memories of the past.

Song of the Siren, directed by Eytan Fox, 1994 - A romantic and quirky comedy set against the stress and absurdity of the Gulf War of 1991, the film tells the story of an assertive, professional woman. Critical of the superficial lifestyle of the trendy Tel Aviv urban set.

Yana's Friends, directed by Arik Kaplun, 1999 - The film, which takes place against the background of the Gulf War of 1991, portrays a variety of quirky characters, many of whom are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and reflects the difficulties of new immigrants in a foreign land.

Three Mothers, directed by Dina Zvi-Riklis, 2006 – Complex story of 3 sisters, born as triplets in Alexandria. A film of song and music, of rich detail and stunningly complicated in-depth characters.

Aviva My Love, directed by Shemi Zarchin, 2006 -- an authentic film about a woman's attempt to become a writer and break out of the despair of the housing projects of Tiberias, against the backdrop of the beautiful Sea of Galilee.

Lemon Tree, directed by Eran Riklis, 2008 – tells the story of two women, one Palestinian and one Jewish, both victims of the chauvanist societies in which they live, each trying to reach out to the other across the divide.

Blind Man's Bluff, directed by Aner Preminger, 1993 - The portrayal of a young, professional woman who must learn to live not only by the expectations of others, but also according to her own needs.

The Dysfunctional Family, Adolescent Angst and Issues of Gender
Passover Fever, directed by Shemi Zarchin, 1995 - An in-depth tapestry of psychological obsessions and the typical dysfunctional family at Passover time, with whimsical optimistic elements.

Late Marriage, directed by Dover Kosashvilli, 2001 - About the difficulty of rebelling within the family framework, the film is a very human story of one man still tied to his Jewish mother. The film provides a glimpse into the traditional values and lifestyle of the Jewish community from the Georgian Republic of the former Soviet Union. Includes a love scene of considerable passion and nudity.

Broken Wings, directed by Nir Bergman, 2002 - A touching drama about the disintegration of a family living with loss. The focus of the story is on the relationship between the mother and her teenage son and daughter.

Someone to Run With, directed by Directed by Oded Davidoff, 2006, Based on the novel by David Grossman -- A story set in the underworld of Jerusalem, a world of drugs and teen exploitation. At the same time, it is the story of teen angst and loneliness, a story of two people searching for first love.

Turn Left at the End of the World, directed by Avi Nesher, 2004 – the story of the friendship between the daughter of French-speaking Jews from Morocco and the daughter of educated English-speaking Jews from India, all living as neighbors in a desolate development town in the Negev in the 1960s.

Secrets, directed by Avi Nesher, 2007 -- A story of the developing relationship between two religious girls, studying at a midrashah (a girls' yeshivah) in Tsfat. A film of great complexity, about love and forgiveness, life and death, superstition and humor.

Yossi and Jagger, directed by Eytan Fox, 2002 (one hour drama) – The film deals with issues of gay men serving in the Israeli army.

War and Peace
Beaufort – see above

Waltz with Bashir – see above

The Band's Visit, directed by Eran Kolirin, 2008 – a charming film about human encounter, about loneliness, about Jews and Arabs who pass in the night and reach out to each other, about people who have the opportunity to both give and receive.

Walk on Water, directed by Eytan Fox, 2003 - A film about homosexuality, hunting down Nazi criminals, the difficulties that Israeli macho men have in expressing their emotions, and the need for more compassion in our lives.

Lebanon, directed by Shmuel Maoz, 2009 – about the Lebanon War, the viewer experiences the fears, tensions and claustrophobia of the young soldiers within a tank.

Late Summer Blues, directed by Renen Schorr, 1986 – A coming-of-age story, the film portrays a group of Israeli youth grappling with high school graduation and preparation for military service at a time of ongoing war.

Life According to Agfa, directed by Assi Dayan, 1992 - The film takes place during the course of one evening in a Tel Aviv pub, a microcosm of contemporary society and depicts a violent nightmare that takes place as a result of society's ills - loneliness, despair, suicide, chauvinism, discrimination, alienation and callous relationships.

Cup Final, directed by Eran Riklis, 1991 – The film takes place during the 1982 War in Lebanon and explores the themes of male bonding during wartime, the relationship between captor and captive, and the possibility of coexistence in the politically tense atmosphere of the Middle East.

Avanti Popolo, directed by Rafi Bukaee, 1986 – A brilliant film which portrays the fine line between the real and the surreal in wartime against the background of the Six Day War of 1967.

Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust
Summer of Aviya, directed by Eli Cohen, 1988 – An intensely human story, originally a one-woman theater production starring Gila Almagor, the film tells Almagor's own personal story, about the shame that she felt as a child, growing up with a mother who was forever tortured by her memories.

And its sequel --
Under the Domim Tree, directed by Eli Cohen, 1995 - The sequel portrays the painful struggles of a group of Holocaust survivor youth all living together in a boarding school during the early 1950s.

And More
Kazablan, directed by Menahem Golan, 1973 – a musical spectacular with wonderful choreography and an ethnic tension, starring Yehoram Gaon.

James' Journey to the Holy Land, directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, 2003 - A critical look at Israeli society. A religious pilgrim from Africa, James arrives in the holy land expecting to find milk, honey and the chosen people. Encountering the existential issues of living as an immigrant in a strange land, he quickly adapts and learns how to fit in.

And my personal favorite -- They Were Ten, directed by Baruch Dienar, 1960 which tells the heroic story of a group of pioneers who settle a desolate hilltop in the Galilee in the 1880s.

These films are available from sources such as the National Center for Jewish Film, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, jewishfilm.org, jewishvideo.com, the Third Ear, jewishfilm.com, and Netflicks.

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