"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, January 7, 2016

Migrant Workers

Last week, I attended LIMMUD U.K.,  which was held this year in Birmingham.  It was a first time for me and I found it quite exciting!  Bringing together more than 2,500 individuals of all ages, LIMMUD offers study on multiple subjects dealing with Jewish life in the contemporary period.  I presented sessions on Israeli film, introduced film screenings, and participated in various panels.  But more importantly, I was also a participant, going from session to session, learning and listening.  It was an extraordinary experience!
I was honored to participate in a panel discussion following the screening of a new feature film, Transit, directed by Hannah Espia.  This is a new film from the Philippines about Philippine migrant workers in Tel Aviv.  The screening was arranged by U.K. Jewish Film Festival. 

This is the first feature film by Philippine filmmaker, Hannah Espia. The film was the Philippines' submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, 2014.

The film deals with a new draconian measure implemented by the Israeli government -- the deportation of the children of migrant workers.  As a result of this new policy, the workers must struggle to protect their children.  In the film, we meet Janet who works cleaning houses.  She is living on an expired visa, and has to worry about her teenage daughter, Yael, who is half Israeli, but according to Janet, that doesn't change her existential identity.  She also worries about Joshua, a 4-year-old little boy who she takes care of.  Joshua is the son of a relative of hers, Moises, who works as a live-in caretaker for an elderly but lovely man.  Joshua's mom has married an Israeli man and she has moved on with her life.  Soon arrives another member of the family, Tina, who is a cousin.  

There are three cinematic techniques that make this an interesting and at the same time a film which is difficult to watch -- language, time and perspective.  The film is slow-moving and tender, but there is too much broken Hebrew which is stilted and grates on the viewer, especially if the viewer speaks Hebrew.  This is a realistic and also sad view of the Hebrew spoken by migrant workers.  Just as our grandparents were immigrant parents and spoke a broken English or a broken Hebrew, so too, these migrant workers "break their teeth" on a language which comes naturally to their children. 

The film is interesting from the point of view of how it treats "time".  It is multi-dimensional when it comes to time!  This is the part of the film that is most extraordinary.  As the perspective or point-of-view changes when each of the characters tells his or her story, then some key scenes are replayed, providing more insight into the characters, as we learn more about their struggles. Many people in the audience were bothered by the repetition, but I found it to be a fascinating technique.

There is something kitsch about the token Israeli "views" in the film -- the Kotel, Old Jaffa, a local Church, a bar mitzvah and a Sefer Torah.  But, overall, it presents a fascinating story of life in Israel for these illegal migrant workers who choose to come to Tel Aviv, the difficult circumstances notwithstanding, and who talk freely about the hardships of life back in the Philippines.
The other panelists discussed some of their experiences in working with foreign workers in both South Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem.  

Transit by Hannah Espia (feature film, 93 minutes) is available from Electric Entertainment. 

The subject of migrant workers is an important issue within Israeli society today and it has been dealt with in many important Israeli feature films, such as  --

  • ·         Noodle by Ayelet Menachemi
  • ·         Foreign Sister by Dan Wolman
  • ·         Manpower by Noam Kaplan
  • ·         The Human Resources Manager by Eran Riklis, based on a novel by A.B. Yehoshua

And two major Israeli documentaries --

  • ·         The Tale of Nicolai and the Law of Return  by David Ofek 
  • ·         Strangers no More by Karen Goodman

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