"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 3, 2013

Three New Israeli Feature Films Welcome the New Year

As the summer draws to a close and all the children return to school, three new Israeli feature films are being shown in the local movie theaters in Israel. 

About social issues --
·         The best of the three films is Youth, by Tom Shoval,  a film about brothers (played by non-professional actors) who are extremely close.  When their father loses his job and things get depressing at home, they decide to take matters into their own hands by kidnapping a girl from a wealthy family in order to extort money from her father.  Just imagine the despair that brings two brothers from a representative middle class family to take such an extreme step, even though they are really trying to do something good!  

The story is terribly troubling and quite disconcerting, perhaps reflective of a young generation of Israelis, brought up in good homes, yet grappling with heavy financial distress.  This is a film about where we are heading, if we don't worry about those experiencing such financial difficulty.  

According to the filmmaker, the story is based on his own growing up, during which time his father lost his job at Ma'ariv, years before the social protests of a few years ago.  Sharing a room with his brother, lying in bed at night, together they created film scripts as their revenge for things that happened to them as a family. 

The film won the best feature film award at the Jerusalem Film Festival last month.  These are the comments by the jury:   

   There are many ways to judge the greatness of a film. One way, for us, would be the way a work stays with us—how days afterwards, images or patches of dialogue will come back to us, showing that the film has now simply become part of our lives... We believe this is an enormously powerful work, one that captures and expresses an aching loneliness that goes far beyond the very particular story it narrates.

According to Uri Klein of Ha'aretz, the film is "intelligent and biting, directed with great talent."

About political issues --
·         Paradise Cruise, a drama by Matan Guggenheim, is a heavy-handed anti-war and anti-occupation statement which lacks clarity in its development.  The two main characters, who meet and explore a love relationship (with gratuitous nudity and sex scenes), are both post-trauma and the film abounds in the images and memories that surface as their affair develops.  She is a French woman who is mourning the death of her Palestinian lover and he is terribly troubled by his army experiences in the West Bank which have led to his personal despair and crisis. 

The title of the film does not refer to anything as enjoyable or relaxing as a cruise to paradise.  Rather, it is taken from a picture postcard -- an ironic comment about life in the West Bank -- where the only place of beauty is in front of a billboard in Ramallah, advertising tours to Hawaii -- where couples go to momentarily escape from their reality and get their photographs taken. 

A somewhat humorous thriller --
·         Big Bad Wolves (hebrew title: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?), a comedy/thriller by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, about police brutality and the search for a serial killer/pedophile.  In an interview on Israeli radio, the filmmakers talked about the use of excessive violence -- which is new for Israeli cinema.  Up until now, I would have said that local cinema is unique in its lack of violence (except of course in war movies) and could be characterized by vulgarity rather than by the over-the-top blood and gore which is so often found in that strangely unique and popular American genre called comedy thrillers (best-known examples are Pulp Fiction and Fargo).  In this film, the ironic or humorous violence is main-streamed, so to speak, the action is fast-paced, there are plenty of opportunities to cover your eyes, and there's way too much spurting ketchup!

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