High hopes for Ophir's top award-winner

Amidst political quips and bad fashion choices, the Ophirs honored some of Israel's best films in years.

By
September 24, 2007 10:27
ophir award 88

ophir award 88. (photo credit: )

The big-scale but thoughtful anti-war film, Beaufort, faced off against a gentle comedy-drama, The Band's Visit, at the Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israeli Academy for Film, that were held last Thursday at the Opera House in Tel Aviv, and the gentle comedy emerged as the big winner. Although Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, a searing drama about the last Israeli unit to leave Lebanon, got prizes for editing, photography, sound design and art direction, the film, which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival came up empty-handed when the top prizes were announced: screenplay, directing and Best Picture, all of which went to Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit. The Band's Visit, a fable-like and charming story of an Egyptian police band that gets lost in the Negev and has to spend the night in a tiny development town, also took most of the acting awards: Its stars Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabay, both veteran actors who give the most appealing performances of their career, won Best Actress and Best Actor respectively. Saleh Bakri, who plays a sexy young musician in Band's, won the Best Supporting Actor Award, and the film also got prizes for Best Score and Costume Design. It was clear all along to Ophir watchers that the principal battle would be between these two films. The other films nominated for Best Picture, David Volach's My Father My Lord, Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's Jellyfish and Ayelet Menahemi's Noodle went home empty-handed, with the exception of a Best Supporting Actress Ophir for Anat Waxman of Noodle. Unlike in most previous years, there was a sense of suspense about which film would win, as well as an air of seriousness about the entire proceedings. Several presenters referred to the fact that the winner of the Best Picture Award will be Israel's Official Selection to be considered for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the US. A short film was broadcast that showed the directors and casts of Ophir-nominated films winning top awards at Cannes, Berlin and Tribeca earlier this year. Sharon Hacohen of My Father My Lord was particularly sweet when she recalled how star-struck she was meeting Robert De Niro, one of the organizers of the Tribeca festival, who presented the awards there. If only the Ophir Awards telecast had improved as much as Israeli films over the last few years. The overlong broadcast, hosted by actors Moni Moshonov and Tal Friedman, had a few good jokes, but not so many that they relieved the general numbness that set in as we were treated to skit after (at best) mildly funny skit. The highlight of the show were the appearances by two children: Sasson Gabay's son, who solemnly and with panache accepted the Best Actor Award for his father, who was performing in a play, and BaoQi Chen, the small and charming Chinese boy who has the title role in Noodle. Chen, dressed in a traditional Chinese pajama-like outfit, traded quips based on dialogue from the movie with one of his co-stars, Anat Waxman, as they introduced Galeb Majadle, the minister in charge of the oddly Soviet-sounding Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport. As the Chinese child who starred in a movie that focused on the plight of foreign workers in Israel stood next to an Israeli Arab government minister and a Jewish actress, they made for a nice tableaux that illustrated the diversity of the film industry here. Majadle sounded sincere when he promised to uphold the Cinema Law, enacted in 2001, which guarantees increased government financing for films. Chances are, there will be more children on the broadcast in the future, since at least four of the presenters were pregnant. One of them, actress Neta Garty, who starred this year in The Debt, looked healthy for the first time in years. In her recent films she was been so thin it would worry any Jewish mother. DOES ANYBODY remember what actually gets said on these awards shows? Ronit Elkabetz, when she accepted the award for Best Actress, opined that the big problems here could be solved if "we all stood face to face as the simple people we really are," and a few others expressed similar sentiments. The funniest jokes of the night were vaguely political, as Moshonov and Friedman said that Israeli movies have become so successful there would be sequels, such as a version of last year's The Bubble set in Sderot, where "people are living in a bubble. They're worried about getting hit by the Kassams, that's all they think about, and they never once give a thought to the people in Tel Aviv who have parking problems." Oshri Cohen, nominated for Best Actor for Beaufort and Rotem Abuhab, one of the pregnant presenters and last year's Supporting Actress winner for Aviva My Love, made jokes as if they were confused about each other's real lives and the characters they've played. Cohen congratulated Abuhab on her pregnancy, saying he knew it had been hard for her to conceive. She shot back that it was her character in Aviva that had difficulty conceiving, not her: "I was just playing a part, like you played a soldier," a reference to the controversy over the fact that many of the cast of Beaufort had not served in the IDF. Perhaps the saddest comment of the night came when Moshonov said, "How is it that movies have gotten so good? We used to have a great country and lousy films. Now, we have great films..." A large number of these great films were nominated in a low-profile category that was actually the most competitive of the night, Best Documentary. The winner was Nadav Schirman's excellent The Champagne Spy, a portrait of Mossad agent Wolfgang Lotz and his family. This film and its competitors - A Working Mom, 9-Star Hotel, Old-Time Stores and Three Times Divorced - have won so many awards at so many festivals worldwide, there isn't space to list them all here. They say one picture is worth a thousand words, and so is one outfit. Elkabetz, the queen of fashion flamboyance, wore an odd get-up that seemed inspired by flamenco dancing costumes, with a long, black silk skirt, long sleeves, a high neck and strategically placed pink flowers embroidered over a sheer black top, matched by long gloves and topped by an elaborate up-do. Last year's winner, Assi Levy, looked incredibly chic in a long white sleeveless gown, while most other women chose simple but elegant gowns, in white, silver and pink. Black was favored mainly by those in advanced stages of their pregnancy. As for the men, well, they still haven't got a clue. It's a toss-up as to who looked worse, the guys who looked as if they had slept in their clothes, or those who engaged in bizarre fashion experiments, such as long white shirts that billowed out underneath short black jackets. Ever hear of a tux, guys? Or a business suit? The most out-there outfit of the night was worn by Doron Ashkenazi, the costume designer who won for his work in The Band's Visit. His knickers, shimmery long purple shirt and shorter gray jacket were certainly eye-catching, but not exactly elegant. Still, he did liven up the telecast, and for that, we should be grateful. Oscar controversy brewing? No Israeli film has been nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 23 years, and many here feel, with justification, that due to the general excellence of Israel's current films - this will be the year that one breaks through, gets an Oscar nomination - and maybe even an Oscar. The Band's Visit won the Best Picture Ophir free and clear, unlike last year, when Sweet Mud and Aviva My Love tied and there was a run-off, which Sweet Mud won. But the potential problem for Band is clear from the title of the award, which is not "Best Foreign Film" but "Best Foreign Language Film". The Academy Awards Web site states clearly that the film's dialogue "must be predominantly in a language or languages other than English." This could be a problem for Band, in which most of the film is dialogue between Egyptian and Israeli characters, who use English to communicate with each other. When I saw it, I didn't keep track of how much was in English and how much in Hebrew and Arabic, but I'd guess that at least half the film is in English. In the last two years, the US Academy has disqualified about nine films for having too much English dialogue. If the US Academy disqualifies a film, it's not clear whether the nominating country gets to propose a substitute. In the past, they've simply moved on and made their choice from among the other 60 or so films which were not disqualified. The Israeli Academy has to face this issue and decide on it soon.


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