"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

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Felix Tikotin

Many people have strolled along the Carmel in Haifa and wondered why the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art is located there.  The story of the Museum can be found within the life story of Felix Tikotin (1893-1986), a German Jew who dedicated his entire life to collecting, exhibiting and trading in Japanese art.  

Tikotin: A Life Devoted to Japanese Art, directed by Santje Kramer, is a fascinating documentary film that tells the story of  his life.  Tikotin came to Berlin as a young man where he studied architecture, was drafted into World War I, and then became a trader in Japanese art.  He enjoyed traveling, and as a young man went to Japan via the Trans Siberian Railway and then continued by boat.  He purchased whatever Japanese art he could find and he organized exhibitions. 

It's interesting that I found this film so intriguing -- perhaps because it is a personal and compelling story, and also because Tikotin himself was an interesting character, especially due to the fact that he was a European Jew, obsessed with Japanese art and culture decades before it became trendy.

In his personal life, Tikotin was married with three daughters.  Even though the family survived the Holocaust by going into hiding in Holland during the war, there was tragedy in the family, and in some ways, his art collection was more a part of who he was than his family.  

During the post-war period, Tikotin found it difficult to rebuild his business because people weren't interested in art from Japan, so he was forced to work hard to promote interest in Japanese culture.   During his life, there were some problems with authenticity of the prints that he sold.  Nonetheless, he was considered to be a major collector of Japanese art and today, his collection is located in two major museums -- a museum in Japan that acquired a large amount of his collection, and the Tikotin Museum in Haifa which he established in 1960. 

This is the story of a man whose life included tragedy and loneliness, but who had a very special aesthetic sense when it came to art and business.

Tikotin:  A Life Devoted to Japanese Art (documentary, 76 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zero Motivation

In her first feature film, director Talya Lavie has created a quirky comedy which takes place in the human resources office (run by female soldiers) on an Israeli military base in the Negev desert.  Zero Motivation takes place during an earlier period before smartphones and before the army was fully computerized.

The story deals with the ridiculous and mindless paper pushing jobs often given to the young women.  But more importantly, the film is about gender in the military.  These young women are assigned to serve coffee and cookies to the male officers who are actually running the show.  Also, the most insightful and critical scenes in the film portray issues of gender -- one deals with unrequited love and its potential consequences and the other with attempted rape. 

This is not a sophisticated film, in fact, much of the behavior of the young women can be characterized as childish, catty and whining, and much of the script seems so predictable.  But, when these women wield their automatic weapons -- staple guns -- watch out!  It is certainly an enjoyable farce which lends a bit of insight into the situation of females in the Israeli military.  

Zero Motivation was a prizewinner at Tribeca and is available from the Match Factory.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Moroccan Spice

Orange People, directed and written by Hannah Azoulai-Hasfari, is an intriguing and wonderful woman's story -- about three generations of Jewish Moroccan women, living in contemporary Israel.  In both of Azoulai-Hasfari's films (she also wrote the script for Shchur), the subject matter is about supernatural powers.  According to Azoulai-Hasfari (in a radio interview on Reshet Bet, May 2, 2014), the Moroccan culture has a strong belief in the power of dreams and demons. 

Orange People is a richly colorful and quirky film, focusing on a Jewish Moroccan grandmother, Zohara.  Having grown up on the coast in Tangier, she is strangely connected to the sea and lives in an old house on the seashore.  She has some kind of extrasensory perception whereby she is able to enter into a spell and dream the past, and then provide advice on a client's future.  

Beautifully photographed in rich and warm colors, the focus of the film is on Zohara's relationship with her two daughters, neither of whom want to continue her line of work.  Instead, both of them work professionally as cooks -- one has a restaurant in Bat Yam and the other in Paris.  They have learned to cook from their mother, who spices her food with gold, which is a metaphor for the rich life and culture with which she was endowed before leaving Morocco.  The story also includes Zohara's teenage grand-daughter and the special relationship between the two.

Azoulai-Hasfari explains that the film is about her double identity which grapples with two worlds -- the traditional world and the modern world.  Why do I make these films, she asks?  It's a way of coming to terms with my identity.  In both films, Azoulai-Hasfari plays the role of the outsider, but she doesn't necessarily see herself as an outsider, rather, she sees this world as central to who she is.

Orange People is an uplifting film, produced by GreenProductions

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Self-Made בורג  is Shira Gefen's second feature film, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival, this week.  Her first film, Jellyfish (Meduzot) , she made together with her husband, Etgar Keret.

Self-Made is about two women, one Palestinian and one Jewish, both of whom are having difficulties managing with their personal lives.  Michal is a highly successful and renowned artist whose bed breaks one morning and she hits her head and loses her memory.  She calls the furniture company and orders a new bed but is unable to manage to put it together.  Nadine works for the same furniture company, packing the screws at their plant.  She uses the screws like crumbs, dropping them along the way as she walks to and from her work.  Both women have lost their way.  

Self-Made encourages critical thinking on political issues.  The two women lead similar and parallel lives - yet the Israeli artist who cannot find her way still lives a life of privilege; one which the Palestinian woman covets.  Much of the movie takes place at the check points where we empathize with Nadine's humiliation and frustrations and observe  the apathy and self-involvement of Israeli youth.   In fact, one of the young soldiers at the checkpoint is so upset that she can't go home for the weekend that she aims her gun at helpless women and children waiting to pass through. Later, she states that she couldn't care less if the occupation ends since her army service is soon coming to a close.
The film also deals with issues of gender.  Michal has created a controversial piece of installation art, having undergone surgery so that she could use her own womb as part of the exhibition.  Nadine, on the other hand, is a single woman who is obsessed with her desire for a baby.  An example of an interesting visual image here is when Michal is putting together a baby's crib, it looks like she is behind bars, certainly a comment on how having a baby limits the freedom of a woman.  When Nadine, however, is working on the same crib, the camera angle shifts and the suggestion is that having a baby would actually help free her from the restrictions of Palestinian society.  
There are also interesting visual images dealing with the political side of the film, such as a bulldozer outside the window, which in our minds is connected to the violent dismantling of Palestinian houses.
Due to a soldier's simple mistake at a checkpoint, Michal is sent to Nadine's refugee camp and Nadine is sent to Michal's home in Jerusalem - or perhaps this happens in their fantasy.  Either way, the viewer watches as each woman discovers amazing fulfillment in the life of the other.  
Unfortunately, the film includes the token suicide bomber, which seems a bit banal today, since so many films have already dealt with what motivates a suicide bomber, and also because we haven't seen many suicide bombings in recent years.
Self-Made is produced by Movie Plus Productions and distributed by United King Films.