"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 next speaking tour to North America will be in October 2015! Contact me if you are interested in my speaking in your community. My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Monday, September 28, 2015

Moral Issues

Just when you think you have seen and heard every Holocaust story, a new one comes along that shakes you to the core.  The documentary film, Kozalchik Affair, directed by Ron Ninio, is the story of a man, Yackov Kozalchik, whose life is ruined because of hate-mongering against him in pre-state Israel.

Kozalchik was very large and very strong and was chosen at Auschwitz to be the kapo of a prison block.  Later, after he survives and comes to Palestine, it comes out that he had been a kapo and there are rumors about some terrible things that he did.  This ruins his life.  
The film focuses on his son, Itzik Shaked, who discovers late in life that his father had been a kapo at Auschwitz.  Now, he embarks on a journey to learn everything he can about his father and the making of the film actually "redeems" his memory.  In fact, we meet survivors who relate emotional stories about how they were saved by Yackov. 
And we grapple with the ethical issues of that time -- Yackov was a collaborator with the Nazis and he did some terrible things in order to save his own life.  But, at the same time, he helped save as many Jews as possible by giving them extra food, by only pretending to beat them, and in one case, actually bribing someone to save a Jewish young woman's life. Who among us can judge what was moral behavior at that time?  

Kozalchik Affair (documentary, 53 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Story of a Family

My Beloved Uncles, directed by Eran Barak, is a compelling look at a neighborhood, a quirky family, and a quest for dreams and hopes. Produced in the style of a personal documentary, the film also covers the phenomenon of kidnapped Sephardi babies during the early years of the state.  This is not just a standard documentary -- it also makes use of creative elements which add to its unique nature.

Pardes Katz, north of B'nai Brak, was an immigrant community built in the 1950s, later turned into a slum.  Today, the filmmaker says he can't run away from it.  His grandparents, who came from Tunisia, raised their family here.  They had a son named Yisrael, born in 1949, who disappeared from the local hospital when he was almost a year old. The family was never shown a body or a burial site.  The filmmaker takes us to meet his grandmother who till this day believes that he was taken from her by the Ashkenazim and is still alive, living somewhere in Israel.
The beloved and lovable uncles make the film so quirky and special.  Uncle Gabi, for example, is a real character, who lived most of his life in Israeli prisons.  He talks about how he always wanted to fit in, to be like other people, and to prove it, he wanted to have an Ashkenazi wife.  But realizing one's dreams is not always within reach.  Another uncle talks about how he wasn't like Gabi -- although they were very close, he never stole anything, except for a few cars here and there!  And a third uncle still drives around in a horse-drawn buggy, collecting scrap metal, searching for a wife.  

My Beloved Uncles (documentary, 72 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sabena Hijacking

Sabena Hijacking, directed by Rani Sa'ar, is a fascinating feature-length film which was broadcast on Israeli TV Channel 2  this week.  It provides an interesting combination of documentary and historical drama and offers a re-enactment of the hijacking of the Sabena airliner in 1972 in which four members of the Black September terrorist group grabbed a passenger plane on the way to Tel Aviv in an attempt to free about 300 Palestinian activists from Israeli prisons. They threatened to blow up the plane and all of its passengers and crew if the prisoners were not released. 

The film –which was riveting and engrossing--combines dramatic re-enactment with exclusive interviews with people who were involved with the incident, including  former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who were members of the elite army unit, Sayeret Matkal, that was chosen to storm the plane.  In a controversial move, the daring filmmakers juxtapose the stories of these Israeli heroes with that of the sole surviving hijacker, Therese Halsa,--a former Israeli citizen who was in Israeli prison for a long time and later released to Jordan, where she now lives and where she was interviewed --who provided a strong voice for the Palestinian point of view.  Halsa's compelling character in the re-enactment considers herself a "freedom fighter" and she says the Israelis are the "terrorists" because they have taken away "our land". 

In addition, the story portrays the captain of the plane, Reginald Levy, a British Jew, whose diary of the events was an important source of information as to what happened on the plane. Captain Reginald, who remained level-headed and felt very responsible for his passengers (perhaps also because his wife was  traveling on the plane) and was in a way a neutral voice.  In addition to the many military heroes of this famous incident in Israel's history of fighting terror,  a surprising hero of the story is a member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an Israeli Jew whose parents came from Syria, who spoke fluent Arabic, and was appointed to be the negotiator with the hijackers.  He did an extraordinary job of trying to gain their trust while keeping cool and continuously misleading them, until the IDF commando unit Sayeret Matkal  was in place, dressed as technicians and ready to storm the plane. 

This film was particularly unusual for an Israeli documentary/drama in that it actually revealed both narratives, the mainstream Israeli one and the Palestinian one.  According to a review in Ha'aretz by Itay Stern, the film's director, Rani Sa'ar, said that in making the film, they had to decide who was the hero of the story.  "We started editing the filmed interviews, and then the story's dramatic human aspect became clear.  There are heroes on the Israeli side, but also on the Palestinian side."

Sabena Hijacking was made for Israel TV Channel 2 by Keshet. The creator and producer of the film is Nati Dinnar (natidinnar@gmail.com).  Watch the trailer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Tale of Love and Darkness

The gifted actress, Natalie Portman, has created her first film as a director/screenwriter.  The film opened last week in Israeli cinemas.

A Tale of Love and Darkness, which was screened at Cannes (out of competition), is based on the autobiographical book by Amos Oz about his growing up in Jerusalem during the end of the British Mandatory period and the early years of the state.  The film is mostly about Amos, the young boy, and his relationship with his parents.  His father was a staid librarian.  In contrast, his mother was a lonely woman, a bit of a romantic, searching for the elements that she had imagined when she came to Palestine from Poland -- beauty, passion, hard-work and bravery.  

The film is a creative adaptation of the Amos Oz book, including dramatized dreams and visions which are stories told by the boy's mother.  And it also shows some wonderful re-enactments of Jerusalem scenes of that period.  However, it is a bit disappointing in that it only provides superficial historical context of the period and what was going on at that time.   

The Ha'aretz newspaper film critic, Uri Klein, called the film "dreary" in his review.  It is true that the film is slow-paced and perhaps does not offer enough emotional depth.  However, the "dreariness" is an authentic reflection of their poverty-stricken lives in Jerusalem at that time -- something that helps us understand the little boy's mother's loneliness and melancholia.  The film is a unique literary adaptation, a period piece.  The filmmaker has chosen to use voice-over as the narrative voice that represents the author today, and it is quite hard-hitting.  

The film is only a partial adaptation of the Amos Oz book.  Portman has decided to focus mostly on the boy and his mother, leaving out much of the lauded autobiography.  But a literary adaptation cannot be expected to cover everything from the book that it is dramatizing.  More important is the question about whether or not it interprets with depth and creativity the material that it chooses to portray.  And I would say that it certainly accomplishes this!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Director's Angst - a new film by Dan Wolman

Readers of this blog already know that Dan Wolman is one of my favorite Israeli filmmakers.  His filmmaking can be characterized as humanistic and independent.  I loved so many of his feature films -- Hide and Seek, The Distance, Floch, Foreign Sister, My Michael, Valley of Fortitude, and more.
His most recent film, The Director's Angst, is quite different from his other films in both subject matter and genre.  According to author Amos Oz, It is a "heartbreaking film and sometimes so funny that it will bring you to tears.  There are unforgettable scenes and original and surprising cinematic ideas."  According to Wolman himself, the film is quite "offbeat". 

The film portrays a filmmaker who is attending the premiere screening of his first feature film called "The Surgery", and we have the opportunity to see bits and pieces of his film as he is hovering nearby, walking the halls, and flirting with the box office manager.  His film-within-a-film provides a surprisingly hard-hitting political satire of contemporary Israel, something that is not so obvious in most of Wolman's previous films (most of his other films are social commentary rather than political).  There is an interesting romantic sub-plot, some very biting dialogue, and a futuristic vision of a militaristic nation constantly at war. An underground group forms to take matters into their own hands and to change the course of things in their land.

It is worth catching this unusual and extraordinary film which is especially critical of the current Israeli political reality.  A strong satirical statement, The Director's Angst  (83 minutes, 2015), is available directly from the director/producer/scriptwriter, Dan Wolman (danwol@zahav.net.il).