"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, February 4, 2014

Sweets by Joseph Pitchhadze is a satire about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Sweets, directed by Joseph Pitchhadze, opened this week in movie theaters in Israel.  It is an intriguing satire about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   Pichhadze offers a unique perspective in his analysis and portrayal of the spiraling violence between Israelis and Palestinians -- in this case, over nothing more than greed.  

Sallah (Makram Khoury) is an Arab Christian entrepreneur who is opening a new chain of candy stores in the Arab sector. His associate is a Jewish man, his wife is Russian, and his business partner is German with a French girlfriend (a statement about the fact that the conflict takes place in a multi-national reality).   When Klausner, the powerful Israeli tycoon who monopolizes the candy market, finds out about Sallah's plans, he compares Sallah's encroachment upon his turf to Hitler's destruction of Jews and Jewish life, as if a business struggle is an attack culturally and politically on Zionism itself.  As he works himself into a crazy frenzy, he hires a mafia hit man to "handle" the matter.  Things quickly spiral out of control, as they  escalate from the burning of the new store in East Jerusalem to the bombing of Sallah's car, and more.

The film includes a wide array of quirky characters.   For example, the Israelis in the film are violent, manipulative, and destructive.  Yet, there is a wonderful scene in which the hit man (Moni Moshonov) goes to the shiny, new candy store and he takes a moment to suck on a stick of candy before destroying the place!  I found Sallah's associate (Menashe Noy) to be the most compelling character -- a Jewish Israeli man who beautifully serenades his friends with Russian ballads in Hebrew, and interestingly enough, works so closely with an Arab businessman that he has almost become part of his family.  He is the epitome of the Israeli who cannot find his place within Israeli society because he is sensitive, modest, loves romance, and more than anything else, is somewhat crippled.  Obviously, people with physical handicaps have no place within normative Israeli society. 

The city of Jerusalem is the setting for this film.  Shot on location with the hills surrounding Ein Kerem as the background for many of the scenes, Sweets includes extraordinary and stylized sets, quirky characters, and a complex narrative which offers a metaphorical look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  There is a heavy emphasis on good food, delicious baked goods, and sucking candy -- all a symbol for both Israelis and Palestinians wanting to just live a normal life.  But, it is obviously not meant to be.

Joseph Pitchhadze's previous films include: Year Zero (2004), Besame Mucho (2000) and Under Western Eyes (1996). 

  • Besame Mucho -- winner of the Wolgin Award for Best Israeli Feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival (2000).  Named for the Spanish love song, the film is a story about gangsters in pursuit of a valuable stolen religious icon.  It is also a passionate love story, love that cannot withstand the pressures of the world of crime.  Utilizing elements of film noir, the film is a humorous takeoff on Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, as can be seen in the film's neatly complex and interwoven plot, the lovable criminals and hit men, and the clear visual and script references.
  • Under Western Eyes  - winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize for best feature film at the Berlin Film Festival (1997) and winner of the Wolgin Award for Best Israeli Feature Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival (1996).  The film is a combination road movie and detective story.  Using slow and measured pacing, it includes remarkable photography and beautiful desert scenery.  Gary is a young man, an architect, living in Berlin.  His father, who was imprisoned 20 years ago for spying for the Soviets against Israel, has escaped from the prison hospital.  Two detectives, obsessed with the case, send Gary a phony fax saying that his father has died, in order to coax him to come to Israel, and convince him to cooperate in finding the escaped convict. 

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