Yosef Shiloah, who died Monday at age 69 after a long struggle with cancer, was one of Israel’s best known and most beloved actors.
“For the dozens of unforgettable roles he brought to life, Yosef Shiloah today is synonymous with the words, ‘Israeli Cinema,’” wrote the organizers of the Jerusalem Film Festival in the citation for Shiloah’s Life Achievement Award at the 2009 film festival.
Shiloah, an unusually versatile and charming actor, moved with ease among every film genre, from low comedy to crime thriller to serious drama. Invariably sporting his trademark moustache, he was the kind of actor who made it look easy.
Although he won many awards throughout his career, including the Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Desperado Square (2001), critics at times attacked him for playing caricatures. While many of his most memorable roles involved broad comedy and ethnic stereotypes, that was more a reflection of the Israeli movie industry in an earlier era than a sign that Shiloah was anything other than a firstrate actor.
He dismissed these criticisms, saying repeatedly that he was an actor who sought to bring to life the humanity in every role he played, and that his acting worked to counteract ethnic prejudice.
Born in 1941 in Kurdistan, the actor, whose original name was Sirus Yousefian, immigrated to Israel in 1950. After studying acting in the first class at the Beit Zvi School in the early Sixties, he became a film star in the early Seventies in the ethnic comedies and melodramas known as “bourekas movies.” He often played criminals (of Persian or other Mizrahi descent), in films such as The Policeman, aka Ha Shoter Azoulai (1970) and Snooker, aka Hagiga B’Snooker (1975). He also starred in many of the more artistic films of that era. He collaborated with two directors in particular.
One was Moshe Mizrahi, with whom he starred in the films I Love You,
Rosa (1972) and The House on Chelouche Street (1973), both of which were
nominated for Oscars. He also had a fruitful partnership with Boaz
Davidson, for whom he starred in a number of films, including Snooker,
Private Popsicle (1983) and most notably the hypochondriac Faruk in Alex
in Love (Alex Holeh Ahava) in 1986.
In 1975, he won critical praise for his role as the depressed poet in Assi Dayan’s surrealist film, Saint Cohen.
Although he was part of the older generation of Israeli comic actors,
which includes Yehuda Barkan and Ze’ev Revach, he continued acting even
as the film industry slowly changed. In recent years, his standout
performance was in Desperado Square in 2001, in which he played a film
buff who is determined to bring an Indian romance film back to his local
theater. This is the role for which the Israel Academy of Film and
Television honored him with the Ophir Award.
He had a career in Hollywood movies, mostly those filmed in and around
Israel, and played roles in such films as Rambo III and Not Without My
Daughter. He often played Arabs in these foreign films, and was proud of
his ability to move back and forth between Jewish and Arab characters.
The actor also appeared in dozens of television shows, among them Love Hurts.
His last film role was 2005 in Menahem Golan’s Days of Love, the story of an aspiring singer played by Maya Buskila.
The actor was an outspoken left-wing activist whose views sometimes
generated controversy. He staged a play that was characterized as
pro-Palestinian, Hamasa (The Journey) in the Eighties and then chose to
live abroad for several years.
Shiloah requested in his will that there be no funeral or shiva
following his death. His family asked that the public respect their