"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel", is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com


Monday, October 13, 2014

Manpower by Noam Kaplan



Manpower (directed by Noam Kaplan) is a biting and tough film about four different stories which intersect in South Tel Aviv where thousands of African political refugees and migrant workers live.  This is a film about the difficulties of everyday life, about financial problems, loneliness, about getting along in a society that is not so welcoming, about frustration and despair.  Israeli society doesn't treat these workers well, their status is problematic and the situation is complex.  

There have been many excellent Israeli films about migrant workers, which deal with how they are treated within our society, such as --
The Human Resources Manager (Eran Riklis)
Foreign Sister (Dan Wolman)
James' Journey to Jerusalem (Ra'anan Alexandrowicz)
Noodle (Ayelet Menachemi)
Janem Janem (Haim Bouzaglo)

This film is perhaps less fictionalized than the others and shows the bare reality of living as a foreign worker in Tel Aviv and how the Israeli authorities deal with this sensitive problem.  Loaded with irony, this is a film about belonging, emigration, and uprootedness.
 
Emigration and loneliness: There is the Jewish cab driver whose son, Philippine daughter-in-law and Israeli-born grandchild have decided to better their lives by emigrating. 

Frustrations: There is the policeman who comes back from a police trip to Buchenwald and is assigned to round up African foreign workers living in Israel.  It's not so easy to raise a family on a cop's salary. 

Uprootedness: There is the Nigerian man with his wife and child, a leader within the African community, who works cleaning houses despite humiliation and fear of deportation.

Belonging: And there is the teenager who works at Aroma, born in Israel to a mother from the Philippines, desperately hoping to join a combat unit  in the IDF in order to fit into Israeli society. 

Manpower portrays the despair and denigration of these families trying to live their lives and of the cops who are themselves victims in so many ways.  You feel for the characters, all of whom are real people living in South Tel Aviv.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Farewell Party



The Farewell Party  מיתה טובה (directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon), now playing in Israeli movie theaters, received a lot of attention at its premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival recently.  The film is about euthanasia and also about the difficulties and frustrations of living with serious diseases as we grow older.  This is not light subject matter, but the filmmakers have decided to attack the subject using humor and farce.  However, frequently throughout the film, I felt that the genre slipped back and forth between comedy and sentimental drama. 

The film stars Ze'ev Revach and Levana Finkelstein, both of whom are veteran Israeli actors of theater, film and television, who are greatly revered by Israeli audiences.  

Living in a home for the elderly, a bunch of friends get together to help one of their closest friends end his life.  Yehezkel (Revach) invents a machine that will permit their friend to end his own life by pressing a button which releases first a tranquilizer into his intravenous tube and then after a short while releases the medicine that will stop the heart.  When others hear about this, they come asking for their services, creating all kinds of humorous incidents
 
There is a parallel plot line which creates the sentimental and dramatic element of the film -- Yehezkel's wife (Finkelstein) is slowly deteriorating, losing her mental capacity, forgetting things, and becoming confused.  One day she walks into the breakfast room stark naked.  Later, when she realizes what she has done, she is completely humiliated and refuses to leave her apartment. Her friends appear that evening, sitting in the nearby flower hot house, all of them naked, in a delightful and remarkable attempt to make her feel better.  

Both a romp and serious food for thought, at the same time, The Farewell Party is produced by United King.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem



Gett - The Trial of Vivane Amsalem is directed by Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz.  Produced as an extremely minimalist courtroom drama, this is a film that portrays a critical look at the patriarchal society, still alive and well , as seen within the Israeli rabbinical establishment.  In order to get a bill of divorce in Israel, a couple must apply to the rabbinical courts which hold authority in all areas dealing with personal status.  These rabbinical courts are run by ultra-orthodox rabbis, not always insensitive, but certainly limited in their world view.  The film shows how much the woman suffers in these courts which, according to Jewish law (halachah) give all the power to the man in granting a bill of divorce (gett).  In fact, in the film, the rabbinical court judges are portrayed as totally insensitive toward women, even to the point of emotional cruelty.
Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz are a sister and brother team who have made a trilogy dealing with the Moroccan Jewish community in Israel -- already in Shiva(2008), we see that Viviane desperately wants a divorce from her cruel and manipulative husband.  In this new film, Gett, Viviane is fighting for her dignity as she petitions the court over a five-year period.  Although the couple has not lived together for many years, the court's first inclination is to insist that the wife return to the husband's household, even though he is obviously cold, cruel, domineering and manipulative towards her.   
This film, the third in the trilogy, adds another hard-hitting criticism.  Through the witnesses that it brings to the courtroom, the film expresses criticism against traditional Moroccan Jews who live a religious and old-fashioned  way of life, which is extremely restrictive for women. It portrays marriages without love and wives who are dominated by their traditional husbands. However, the film's criticism of this community is perhaps a bit too stereotypical.
The film was awarded first prize in the competition for best Israeli feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, just a few months ago.  Here are the jury remarks --
"Modern societies take for granted that one loves freely and stops loving freely. Yet, as the remarkable movie by Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz suggests, that freedom is denied to women in modern Israel by the rabbinical tribunals.  If cinematographic tradition has made us used and even tired of seeing love as the sole and ultimate object of desire, Viviane Amsalem, the central character of this story desires  the opposite of love: she passionately desires a  Gett or the religious Jewish act of divorcing which can only be granted by a man to a woman. In a very convincingly and beautifully crafted script,  Vivianne desires to stop being the object of a man’s desire. But this passionate desire for stopping to be the object of desire of a man who will not set her free, meets with the resistance of powerful and invisible social machinery made of the various men who control her life and that of the women who appear in front of the tribunal court.  The movie represents a stunning twist on the genre of courtroom drama as it shows the subtle continuity between the court judges and the structure of the patriarchal family.  As the emotionally intense and restrained performance of Menashe Noy  [as the courtroom lawyer petitioning for the claimant] suggests, this powerful social machinery  is defeated not so much by the force of the better argument or by justice but by the relentless attack on a system determined to subdue the feelings and desires of women.  Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz bring here to a conclusion their superb trilogy on the Israeli-Moroccan community, never romanticizing them, never yielding to any facile political reductionism. This is art at its best."

The film is available from Films Distribution.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer of Comedy



It's funny how these things work out.  The summer of 2014 has been one of war, yet there are four new comedies in Israeli movie houses.  In fact, it seems that comedy as a genre is replacing war films, at last!  The comedies include: Zero Motivation (already reviewed on this blog),  Kicking Out Shoshana, The Farewell Party and Hill Start.

Hill Start, first feature film by Oren Stern, is a quirky feel-good comedy on the subject of the family.  In contrast to other films about the family which have been mostly dramas, this one is a comedy about father-son relations, commitment, marriage, communication and compromise.  The family is an upper-middle class family , in which father and son are plastic surgeons who work together yet competitively (reminiscent of Footnote, in which the father and son worked in the same profession but were in competition with each other -- in fact, in both films, the father is played by Shlomo Bar Abba).   Mother and daughter also work together -- they both teach at the same high school -- the mother is the sports teacher and the daughter teaches Arabic.  

The story develops around the love life of the surgeon-son, who is in engaged to marry a girl from a lower socio-economic group (not to mention that she's a manipulative yet loveable Sephardi stereotype), and the teacher-daughter, who is infatuated with Arabic language and culture. 

There is a fair amount of complexity and there is something for everyone -- yoga, driving lessons, the Jerusalem marathon, romance, humor, and just a bit of tits and sex -- after all, this is an Israeli film!
The entire story takes place in Jerusalem, with views that make it truly memorable.   As you watch the film, see if you can pick out familiar streets and sites!

Hill Start was made by United King Films.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Holocaust Survivors




There has been much written about the loneliness and poverty of aging Holocaust survivors in Israel.  Letter from the Past, a short drama (47 minutes) by Ofer Zingerman, sheds light on these issues.

Menachem is a Holocaust survivor, a watch repairman, living in Tel Aviv.  When he receives a letter that had been lost at the post office for 30 years, it brings back memories of a time past.  This is a slow and compelling study of an aging man, his fear of the thugs who exploit the elderly people in his neighborhood, and his memories of his family from so long ago. As his story is slowly revealed, we are drawn in and feel for his sad existence.  

Letter from the Past is available from RuthDiskin.