"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, May 27, 2010

Too old to be children – too young to be adults

Adolescence and Coming-of-age Films

People often ask me if adolescents in Israel are really different from adolescents around the world. The truth is that they are and they aren't. When you take the difficulties of growing up in a society under siege and you combine it with the pressures of youth and adolescent unease worldwide, perhaps you would have a better insight into Israeli teens.

In some ways Israeli youth are living lives in a pressure cooker. They are suffering from uniquely Israeli issues such as the stresses and psychological trauma of life under difficult circumstances. In addition, however, just like young people around the world, they are suffering from urban alienation, identity crises, and family issues such as divorce and blended families.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to generalize about Israeli teens – there are those who run from their upcoming military responsibilities and those who embrace them, there are those who rebel against the religious or ideological paths set by their parents and those who conform, and there are those who stand up and shoulder difficult burdens in an attempt to make this a better place.

Tikun Olam -- Taking Responsibility to make things right

The most important film in this category is Someone to Run With (2006) – directed by Oded Davidoff, script by Noah Stollman, based on the novel by David Grossman. Set against the background of Jerusalem, this is the story of two adolescents, one of whom has the strength and courage to fight back against the world of drugs and teen exploitation, two young people who are able to make a difference.

It is summertime in Jerusalem. Tamar receives a phone call from someone who needs her help, someone who sounds stoned on the phone. She is a 16-year-old girl, who cuts off all her hair, and sets out with her guitar and her dog, to live on the streets of Jerusalem. In her desperate search (for a boy who later turns out to be her brother), she is sucked into the world of a rough gang who exploit street kids and their talents as a front for their drug trafficking.

Parallel to Tamar’s story is the story of Assaf, whose summer job has assigned him to find the owner of Tamar's runaway dog. Taking his job seriously, Assaf obsessively runs after the dog around the city of Jerusalem and slowly unravels the story of Tamar. The two stories run parallel throughout the film and eventually intersect.

Tamar can also sing and play the guitar, and there are a number of very sweet musical numbers.
Combining music and stark, gritty realism, this is a story of strength and commitment. It is also an ode to the city of Jerusalem, and its youth. Jerusalem is an extraordinary part of the film – perhaps one of the protagonists. As Assaf and the dog run from place to place, searching for Tamar, they encounter so much of the city and its life – its alleyways and parks, its shops and outlying districts, and its underworld. Tamar and Assaf have the strength to fight back against the underbelly of the city and to make a difference.

An Adolescent Story

Another recent coming-of-age film, Summer Story (directed by Shmuel Peleg Haimovich), also deals with trying to make things right. It is the summer of 1982 and there is a war raging in Lebanon. Gal (12-years-old), who lives on a Moshav and has a summer job delivering the local mail, finds himself particularly attracted to Chaya, an almost 20-year-old young woman who is at home all the time due to a heart defect.

Writing letters to soldiers at the front, Chaya is particularly pining for one of the soldiers with whom she is corresponding. When he sends her a picture, Gal, as the mailman, intercepts it and rips it up in a fit of jealousy. When Chaya becomes ill, however, and has to undergo heart surgery, Gal decides to make things right and tries to get a picture of the soldier for her, thinking that it will make her happy and help her through the surgery. He travels to Kiryat Shmona, trying to get to the front in Lebanon, in order to find the soldier.

This is a naive and sweet adolescent film. Summer Story is available from Go2Films

Relating to Upcoming Military Service

Perhaps the best known and most sensitive coming-of-age film is Late Summer Blues (directed by Renen Schorr, 1986). The film, which takes place during the War of Attrition of 1968-70, portrays a group of Israeli youths, graduating high school in an atmosphere of ongoing war -- their reactions to the death of a close friend, the needs of their parents and schoolteachers to shield them as if they were still children, and their ambivalent feelings towards army service.

Although the film was produced in the 1980s, it describes a period in Israel's history which was a period of ongoing war and tension, on the background of the student anti-war movement in Europe and the United States. The film's highlight is a protest song that the youth in the film write and perform, in which they sing: “We don’t want them to tell us what’s right and wrong; we don’t want wars, orphans, tombstones”.

During his battle with lung cancer, before he died, Ehud Manor, Israeli lyricist and music historian, began to talk more about his family, his youth, and his own coming to terms with death. He said that after having lost his father when he was young and his younger brother during the War of Attrition, he was finally able to write a protest song against the ongoing wars, death, and also in opposition to the songs of his parents’ generation. He wrote the song "אין לי ארץ אחרת" Ayn Li Eretz Acheret (I have no other land) in the 1980s as a protest song. Just as Late Summer Blues was produced as a protest statement in the 1980s, after the War in Lebanon, about the War of Attrition, this song was also written in the 1980s. Although the story of the film and the background of the song take place in 1968-1970, Manor admits that this is not the kind of statement he could have made at that time. The new feeling of vulnerability, which was an outcome of the Yom Kippur War (1973), and the controversial nature of the War in Lebanon (1982) both created an atmosphere in the 1980s that encouraged and permitted protest.

Universal issues vs. particularistic Israeli issues

Broken Wings (directed by Nir Bergman, 2002) is a film about bereavement, a touching drama about the disintegration of a family living with loss. Many have acclaimed the film for its grappling with a universal issue. However, the film is also uniquely Israeli -- the story takes place following the death of the father from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, something so tragic, trivial and apparently meaningless, that can be seen as a parallel to the senseless deaths that Israelis are facing all too often in reality. See a previous blog posting on this film for more details.

Additional films about youth that can be found on this blog include:
  • Lost Islands
  • Sweet Mud
  • Eli and Ben
  • Turn Left at the End of the World
  • Secrets
  • Intimate Grammar

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