On August 10, the Garage Screen summer cinema will host the final screening of ‘All Eyes Off Me’. Hadas Ben Aroya’s candid drama about the lives of Israeli youth was first featured in the panorama program of the Berlin Film Festival 2021. We recall the history of Israeli cinema and other most interesting Israeli films of recent years – from “Foxtrot” to “Knee of Ahed”.
Israel is a young country, and cinema is a young art form. Nevertheless, the history of Israeli cinema reflects the history of Israel itself.
One of the first films was shot in Ottoman Palestine by the French Lumière brothers. It is commonly known as “Departure from Jerusalem by Rail” (1897). Its exotic panoramic views are as mesuming today as they were first shown to European audiences. The Land of Israel remained the focus of filmmakers’ attention during the British Mandate. The first feature film in Hebrew was Oded the Wanderer (1933). It depicts a young Sabra (a Jew born in Israel) separated from his classmates during a school trip. In a typically instructive manner, the film emphasizes the importance of restoring the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
Film Erets-Israeli (FAI)-HalachmiStill from the movie “Oded wanderer”
Most of the works created in previous years and the early years of Israeli statehood emphasized these and other Zionist ideals. A common stereotype was the heroism of Jewish pioneers in settlement of lands and the struggle for their survival.
The most striking manifestation of this type is probably “Height 24 Does Not Answer” (1955). Shot with a relatively expensive budget, it tells the stories of four fighters from different backgrounds who were needed in the War of Independence. They die, but their deaths are not in vain – their mission is accomplished, and the hill of the same name goes to Israel.
Ephraim Kishon’s first film, Salah Shabbati (1964), is radically different from these standard propaganda productions that demonstrate heroism, nobility, and sacrifice. It broke all box office records and is still often demonstrated while learning Hebrew. Salah hilariously overthrows the narcissistic idealism that has been so prevalent in both Israel and cinema. He was nominated for an Academy Award. In it, Chaim Poplar plays a Sephard immigrant (a migrant from Mediterranean countries), lazy and sweet, who manipulates the system to his advantage.
Still from the movie “Salah Shabbat.”
In the late 1960s, a new force emerged in Israeli cinema, the so-called Kayitz group (in Hebrew, an abbreviation for Young Israel Cinema). The French “new wave” movement and its concept of auteur cinema began to infiltrate Israel.
The development of cinema also went hand in hand with developments at the national level, as the Six-Day War (1967) changed Israel’s perception of itself. The Israelis were bored with the Zionist fables, and they were less worried about imminent destruction. However, there was no context in which cinematic innovations could be placed. There was a continuous tradition in literature, rooted in thousands of years, and writers could use the rich heritage to give their work resonance and context. In cinema, it has proved more difficult to forged modern local traditions with artistic integrity.
Shlosha Yamim Veyeled, 1967 / A. DesheStill from the film “Three Days and a Child.”
Three Days and a Child (1967) by Uri Zoara, based on a short story by A. Yehoshua, won actor Oded Kotler the award for Best Actor at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a psychological drama that explores a man’s ambivalence for three days as he cares for his ex-girlfriend’s son. The film examines the existential dilemmas faced by Israelis.
In the 1970s, the so-called burekas films prevailed. Many Israelis looked at these homegrown farces (and some melodramas) as a way out of the tension of their lives. Uncomplicated and not sophisticated, like the pastries that gave them their name (burekasa are pies of Turkish origin), these films met their time requirements.
In 1978, a foundation for the promotion of quality Israeli cinema was founded. It is no coincidence that the second wave of Kayitz filmmakers emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the most important members of this generation is Uri Barabash, whose television drama “My First Sony” was screened at the Israel Film Festival. This work is related to issues such as mental illness and the rehabilitation of criminals. His most famous film, Beyond the Walls (1986), about Arab-Jewish relations in prison, was nominated for an Oscar.
In the 1990s, Israeli cinema came of age in many ways. Population and economic growth, along with the less defensive, closed point of view of Israeli society, contributed to an increase in the quantity and quality of films. Many Israelis have stopped watching domestic films, preferring European and Hollywood.
Now Israeli cinema is mainly developing in two directions: rethinking the war with Palestine and exploring the pressing internal problems of modern society. After the victory in 2019 of the film “Synonyms” by Nadav Lapid at the Berlinale, the world again started talking about Israeli cinema. It was a film about a native of Israel, who emigrated to France, and how he can not find his homeland in a foreign land. According to the director, modern Israel is a military service, a sense of deep shame before the Palestinians, a dichotomous civic consciousness. Such political films become significant events on the scale of world cinema, receive prizes at film festivals of category “A,” and raise the question for Israelis: is it possible to be a normal citizen within the framework of the policy implemented by the state?
There are also quieter films not about politics, but social and existential problems – about the growing up of young people, abuse, relationships. It is characteristic that in almost every Israeli film, the French trace is somehow indicated: some of the characters speak French, someone is photographed at the Eiffel Tower, and someone wants to go to Paris. This cinematic current draws its origins from the French “new wave” and the Kayitz group.
Foxtrot, by Samuel Maoz (2017)
A.S.A.P.Still from the movie “Foxtrot.”
Soldiers knock on the Feldman’s apartment. Daphne opens the door and faints, feeling something is wrong. Father Michael is informed of the sad news: their son Jonathan Feldman died in the line of duty. Daphne is injected with a sedative in her thigh. She instantly falls asleep. Michael is left alone with this news and experiences it as best he can: he drives away an affectionate domestic dog, holds his hand under a stream of boiling water to blisters, visits a sick mother in a nursing home. Michael’s brother arrives, who announces in the newspaper about the funeral, Feldman’s daughter Alma calls. A couple of hours later, the military returns with an apology – another Jonathan Feldman, not their son, was killed. Michael is furious at such a mistake. He demands the urgent return of his son from the army. At this time, somewhere in the desert, Yonatan is serving. Together with the other three soldiers, he wears out of boredom and learns to dance the foxtrot.
Samuel Maoz’s film won the Zloty Lion at the 74th Venice Film Festival and shocked the world audience and the Israeli community. The country’s culture minister, Miri Regev, said Maoz’s film denigrates the Israeli army and is a lie disguised as art. The main message of the picture is that in modern Israel, you can die not only by mistake but also intentionally. The film, full of frowning, evil irony, tells about the fragility and fragility of the world in which we live.
Don’t Forget Me by Ram Nehari (2017)
Film FiveStill from the movie “Don’t Forget Me.”
Tom suffers from an eating disorder but is already recovering in a special clinic – the menstrual cycle has returned to her. When the doctor tells her that this is a good sign because it means that her condition is improving, she panics: the idea of gaining lost pounds scares her to death. It seems like a day to forget, but things change when she meets Neil, a tuba player with socialization issues: the two feel a strong bond that cements their shared desire to avoid anything deemed socially acceptable.
Here’s what the director himself says about his film: “I lean towards eccentric romantic comics, although I hate romance and am a terrible cynic. Over the years, I have been a mentor and director of short films made by mentally ill people. Don’t Forget Me is based on this experience and includes all my obsessions; what bothers me and makes me laugh. Importantly, this movie is funny. Making people laugh is my battle for self-respect; to make them cry is to beg for pity.”
Tel Aviv on Fire, Sameh Zoabi (2018)
Tel Aviv on Fire, 2018 / Artémis ProductionsStill from the movie “Tel Aviv on Fire”
A young Palestinian, Salam lives in Jerusalem and is interning on television. His producer uncle takes him on the series “Tel Aviv on Fire” about the Six-Day War so that Salam writes dialogue. Every day, Salamis is forced to pass a checkpoint between Israel and Palestine to meet the military Assi. Assi’s wife is a passionate fan of “Tel Aviv on Fire,” and to win his wife’s attention, Assi begins to blackmail Salam to write the script in the right direction for the Israeli. And when, according to the Arabic version, the show should end with a bomb explosion, according to Assi, a wedding between a Palestinian spy and an Israeli general should take place in the finale. Salamis is under real stress from all this. In addition, his beloved does not want to return to him.
This comedic melodrama carries an unexpected look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the film Zoabi, there are no bad Arabs and good Israelis, rather the opposite – the author sympathizes with his hero Salam. However, the director also understands that the military conflict has not yet been exhausted in the current conditions. Unfortunately, the friendship between the two militant peoples of the Middle East is only a myth.
The Tribe of Ahed, Nadav Lapid (2021)
Ha’berech, 2021 / Arte France CinémaStill from the movie “The Tribe of Ahed.”
An Israeli director named Y (choreographer Avshalom Pollack) is trying to create a drama about Ahed Tamimi, a real Palestinian activist. The girl became known on both sides of the border after slapping an Israeli police officer, and one of the Israeli ministers tweeted that a 17-year-old girl needed to be shot through the kneecap, never to walk again. The Israeli film fund refuses to support this subversive project, but Y is known enough to bring the project to the final line (his last film was shown in Berlin, making Y a real prototype of Nadav Lapid). However, he does not understand the scale of the growing problem of censorship in the country until he travels to a small town in the Arava desert to showcase his work and spends a day with a cheerful librarian who reports to the Ministry of Culture.
Filmed in record time — in 18 days — “The Tribe of Ahed” not only refers to the famous film by Eric Romer, doing it with black irony but also filled with rage towards modern Israeli politics. Lapid himself admits that he has tried several times to leave Israel, but each time he came back: “It seems to me that we are so united with my country that it is impossible to leave it just like that. I don’t see myself in exile as I did with the protagonist.” Nadav Lapid won the jury prize for this film at the Cannes Film Festival in July.
All Eyes Off Me, by Hadas Ben Aroya (2021)
Hadas Ben Aroya frame from the film “All Eyes Off Me.”
Danny is a tall girl with broad male shoulders. She came to the party and looked for her friend Max to tell him that she was pregnant with him. However, she finds Max with his new girlfriend Avishag and decides not to tell him. That’s the first part. In the second part, Aroy shows the relationship between Max and Avishaug. The guy tells his beloved about his experience of sex with a Filipino transvestite, admitting that he liked it. Max tries to have hard sex with Avishaug, and the girl, in turn, seems to be satisfied. But something else is on her mind. And this is the third part of the film.
In her trilogy, Aroya tries to show the versatility of modern relations between men and women, simultaneously revealing some other psychological problems. Someone talks about how he stalker his boyfriend on Netflix, someone talks about his long-standing pregnancy, one of the characters is ashamed of his fullness. In her debut, People Not Like Me, Hadas Ben Aroya herself played the lead role of Joy, a girl in between two loves. The heroine of her second film, Avishaug, is in a similar position, entangled in feelings for the beautiful and sexy Max and the kind owner of the dog she walks, Drors..”