"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

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dancing Arabs

 Dancing Arabs is the latest film by acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis -- well-known for his previous films -- Cup Final, Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree, The Human Resources Manager and Zaytoun.  The script is based on two semi-autobiographical novels by Sayed Kashua, Israeli Palestinian columnist and author. Kashua is also well-known to Israeli film-going audiences for his TV comedy series, Arab Labor. 

Dancing Arabs premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival this week.  Here is a guest blog posting, written jointly by my daughters, Sari, Dahlia and Ariella Kronish and one of my sons-in-law, Josh Maudlin.   

Like Kashua himself, the main character, Iyad, is from the Palestinian Israeli town of Tira. The film begins with a humorous, somewhat slapstick, portrayal of his childhood. When he nears high school age his parents decide to send him to an elitist Jewish boarding school in West Jerusalem, where most of the film takes place. As Iyad becomes independent and matures, he faces the complexities of his multi-faceted identity.

Surrounded by people who constantly mispronounce his name, Iyad finds himself in limbo between his Israeli and Palestinian identities. This dichotomy is portrayed in depth as Iyad examines his friendships and his loyalties to both sides, and it raises serious questions about the status of the Palestinians living in Israeli society today.

One of the relationships is with a young woman in his class. On the one hand, for the majority of the film, the couple is very private about their love for each other. On the other hand, the intimate sex scene transpires on a stage perhaps suggesting the very public nature of their relationship. It is not about two individuals, but about who and what they represent. 

Considering the current situation (Summer 2014 - Rockets falling throughout Israel), one of the more chilling moments in the film, is the siren that is heard in Tira, while the family is gathered around the TV watching the first Gulf War and debating American involvement. The stereotyped characters run up to "dance on the roof" celebrating the retribution against the Zionist occupiers. Iyad and his mother connect over their ambivalent feelings. Here we realize that Iyad is an outsider even among his own family. 

The film was planned for release in cinemas around Israel parallel to its opening at the festival. However, as Riklis himself said at the post screening Q+A: "it simply made no sense to hang up huge billboards all over the country with the phrase 'Dancing Arabs' given the present situation."

The Riklis-Kashua duo has produced a hard hitting, well-paced and important film. The excellent script, written by Kashua as a self-adaptation of two of his own books, is interpreted sensitively by Riklis, as he himself reflected: "I tried to bring sense and sensitivity to the forefront - two things we need more of around here." Kashua, on the other hand, is on his way to Chicago for a hiatus from the conflict, perhaps no different than Iyad himself who contemplates whether he will be able to make a life for himself in his homeland.

Dancing Arabs is available from The Match Factory.

Life on the Periphery

Ben Zaken is a new Israeli feature film which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival this week.   Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Efrat Corem, the film is about family relationships, on the background of the desperation of poverty and hopelessness in a slum neighborhood in Ashkelon.  

The story focuses on a man and his relationship with his 11-year-old daughter.  Shlomi Ben Zaken is a single father, who works as a night watchman and lives with his mother and his brother in the housing projects built in the 1950s for immigrants.  It's a sad and forlorn place, with garbage strewn everywhere.  

His daughter, Ruhi, is stealing from and fighting with the other kids.  Shlomi loves his daughter dearly, and desperately wants to provide for her the opportunity to fulfill the dreams that he had once set for himself.

In addition to the hopelessness, there is constant and deepening tension in the household especially between Ruhi and her grandmother, and between Shlomi and his brother.  

An ethnic drama, the film suffers from a lack of complexity.  But perhaps that is also its uniqueness -- it portrays a stifling existence, in which sad and lonely souls are ensnared by the poverty, the boredom and the terrible trap of their desperate existence.

Ben Zaken is available from Laila Films (itai@laila-films.com).
Photo credit:Amit Berlovitz