"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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Operation Sunflower, directed by Avraham Kushnir, opens with a suicide bombing and a siren due to the loading of nuclear warheads by Iran.   Most of the film, however, takes place in an historical period --  in the 1950s and early 1960s. As a deterrent against Russia's arming the Arab states and their desire to wipe the state of Israel  off the face of the earth, our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had the chutzpah and the vision to go after  what he and his colleagues regarded as the perfect insurance plan for Israel's continued existence and he chose the nuclear option. 
The well-known Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon stars as the megalomaniac head of the Mossad who will do anything to obtain the nuclear option for Israel.  He negotiates with the French and the Germans and he organizes a team of Israeli scientists to go to Paris to work on the bomb.  Why do the scientists agree to do this work?  One wants it for his own career advancement.  Another wants it in order to be close to one of the other scientists.  Only the chief scientist seems to have doubts and questions concerning his role in the development of the bomb.  

The film includes a great deal of rhetoric about the post-Holocaust need to create a strong and invincible nation.  This explains why the nuclear option was chosen at that time -- not because Israel wanted to be the aggressor in war against her neighbors, but rather in order to ensure that "it would never happen again."  

Why are some  Israelis still obsessed with this subject -- and why are they making a film about it today?  Not only because Iran is looking to arm itself with nuclear weapons, but because many Israelis still see, in every enemy, Nazis who want  to annihilate the Jewish state.

At the end of the film, when the narrative construct returns to the present day, there is a coup in Iran, forcing those who were loading the nuclear warheads to back down, thus avoiding a nuclear disaster.  Notwithstanding the need to prevent Iran from stockpiling nuclear weapons and the winds of change that are blowing there, I much prefer Eytan Fox's perspective in his film Walk on Water, in which his Mossad killer/main character concludes that he just doesn't want to kill anymore.  In the context of that film, it can be interpreted to mean that he just doesn't want to hunt Nazis anymore.  In addition, we are now a strong and powerful nation and he doesn't want to only see the world through a lens of paranoia.   The main character also states  clearly that you don't have to walk on water.  In other words, it's time to stop our obsession with being super-human and all powerful, and just get on with living a normal life.

Operation Sunflower is available in the U.S. from Israeli Films.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Decades of Israeli history as seen in A Place in Heaven

A Place in Heaven, directed by Yossi Madmony, has epic overtones.  As we follow the main character's life through decades of the history of Israel, however, we begin to see that the film is much more an allegory about the choices and character flaws of one man.

In the early years, Bambi (brilliantly played by Alon Aboutboul) was a heroic, reckless and cocky military commander, leading his men in battles against the fedayeen.  As a cynical and secular Israeli, he sold his place in heaven to a young religious soldier who was in awe of him as a great hero of the Jewish people who would certainly have a place of honor in the world to come.  

The film opens with Bambi's death, and the story is told in flashback.  Even though we know when and where he will be killed, we find ourselves being caught up in the drama of whether he will ever be able to regain his place in the world to come and whether he is actually deserving of it in the first place.

The narrative centers around Bambi's personal life -- his love for his Yemenite wife, his relationship with his father-in-law -- set against the ongoing wars of Israel and Bambi's promotions in the Israel army.  But the main drama is about his complex relationship with his son and his son's eventual decision to become religious. 

Yossi Madmony's previous film, Restoration, was also about father-son relations and about memory.  See my review of it on this blog.

A Place in Heaven (2013, 117 minutes) is available in the U.S. from Israeli Films.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"She's Coming Home" is characterized as 'unsettling'

She's Coming Home, directed by Maya Dreifuss, opens this week in Israeli movie theaters.  The narrative is about a 30-something woman named Michal who is at the end of a long relationship with her boyfriend.  She returns home to live with her parents in Herzliyah, supposedly to work on writing a feature film.  Ze'ev is a married man, the principal of the local high school, and much older than Michal.  When he rear ends her car, they meet and begin a relationship. 
This is a film about an adult woman's difficulties living in her childhood home with her  parents  -- it's not surprising that she would come home and not have any privacy and be shocked to notice little things about her parents and their relationship that she hadn't noticed before. This part of the film is filled with humor and much insight and quite well-constructed.  

However, it's also a film that is making a comment about a woman's self- empowerment -- or lack thereof -- about power games between a man and woman.  This part of the film is not easy to watch and honestly, quite infuriating and troubling, since the sex scenes (which seem to abound) reflect the use of violence as an abusive tool in a relationship.

The film won an award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, 2013.  The comments of the jury were as follows:

the jury has selected a bold, unsettling work that challenges the audience to continually re-orient its relationship to its fascinating if often enigmatic characters.
The film stars Tali Sharon as Michal, Alon Aboutboul as the older man and Liora Rivlin as Michal's doting mother. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Jewish Community of Baghdad

Shadow in Baghdad is a compelling documentary film which tells the story of Linda Menuhin, an Israeli journalist who writes and reports in Arabic.  She grew up in Baghdad as part of the large and flourishing Jewish community there.  After the 1967 Six Day War, the situation of the Jewish community deteriorated and they lost all of their civil rights.  In the early 1970s, as a result of the strong arm tactics of Saddam Hussein's secret police, most of the community fled.  Linda ended up in Israel and her mother and siblings followed.  Her father, an experienced lawyer who didn't understand the dangers lurking in the shadows, remained behind.  There was an exchange of letters, and then, on Erev Yom Kippur in 1972, he was abducted and never heard from again. 

Like a detective story, this documentary film slowly uncovers details about the father's fate.  Linda is assisted in her search by a journalist in Iraq who has offered to help.  Together, they slowly unravel the family story through old letters which are examined, and family friends who are interviewed. 

Linda talks about her pride in being an Iraqi and her longing for the life that they had back in Baghdad -- the thriving community, the university atmosphere and the beautiful Arabic language. The director, Duki Dror, who himself is a descendant of Iraqi parents who were forced to flee Baghdad and rebuild their lives in Israel, says, "My parents' longing for their past life in Iraq was always strong."  This is a moving film about personal memory, about yearning for the place where you were born, about  being forced to flee your homeland and rebuild with a new identity, and it is the story of Iraqi Jewry in the contemporary period.  
The documentary film, Shadow in Baghdad (documentary, 65 minutes), is available from Go2Films.