Two important new DVD releases of Israeli films – a boxed set of Avi Nesher’s movies and Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem – have just come out, and they’re perfect for those people who prefer seeing movies at home than at the multiplex. The best news of all is that these DVDs feature English subtitles.
Avi Nesher is both one of Israel’s most celebrated veteran directors and one of the most talented voices on the contemporary movie scene. He started his career in the late Seventies with two huge hits about young people in the army and in Tel Aviv, The Troupe (Halahaka) and Dizengoff 99, which are two of the films in the seven-film DVD collection that was just released as part of the Israeli classics series by NMC United and United King Films. These movies were huge hits and groundbreaking at the time, because they were about young Israelis living their lives, having romances, breaking rules and setting goals that were driven by personal ambition and not patriotism – in short, they showed kids being kids. The Troupe, which has been voted one of the most beloved Israeli movies of all time in poll after poll, features Israeli pop stars Gidi Gov and Gali Atari (among others), in the story of an army entertainment troupe.
The new version has been digitally remastered and features Nesher’s commentary. Dizengoff 99, about two guys and a girl who share an apartment and work in an advertising agency, also comes with several bonus features, including a documentary about Tel Aviv.
After making these two classics, Nesher was lured away by Hollywood and made only one film in Israel during the Eighties, Rage and Glory, in 1984. The film, which tells the story of the underground Lehi fighting group and their struggle against the British Mandate leadership in the Forties, was named one of the most important films of Israeli cinema by the Lincoln Center Film Society in 2001. It stars Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Israeli-Palestinian actor who was murdered in 2010 by Islamic extremists. The DVD features a “Making Of” short, director’s commentary and other extras.
In 2004, Nesher returned to Israel and has made four films in the past decade, all of which are included in the set. Turn Left at the End of the World (2004), tells the story of an Indian immigrant who comes to live in an isolated town in the Negev and befriends a feisty Moroccan girl, and features commentary by Negev and the two lead actresses, Neta Garty and Liraz Charhi. The 2007 film, The Secrets, is about two girls in an ultra-Orthodox seminary in Safed who become immersed in Kabbalah. Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer called it one of the best films of the year. It comes with shorts about the making of the film and its music.
In 2010, Nesher released The Matchmaker, a moving film about a 16-year-old boy in Haifa in 1968 who gets a summer job as a spy for a mysterious matchmaker and finds himself drawn into the seedy street life around the port.
This film won Ophir acting awards for its leads, Adir Miller and Maya Dagan. It includes several bonus features, including a commentary in which I interview the director (in English).
His most recent film, The Wonders (2013), about a Jerusalem barman and artist who gets involved in a mystery, is on DVD for the first time and has several bonus features, including a video of the song, “Time to Wake Up,” which was written for the film by the group, Hadag Nahash. Hadag Nahash’s frontman, Shaanan Street, co-wrote the movie.
The Avi Nesher Boxed Set sells for NIS 199 and is available in the PAL DVD format.
The release of Yuval Adler’s acclaimed film, Bethlehem, will be of great interest to Israeli movie lovers because the film won the Ophir Award for Best Picture in 2013, as well as the top prize at the Venice Days section of the Venice International Film Festival. The film, which stars Tsachi Halevi and Shadi Mar’i, is about a tightly wound Jerusalem-based intelligence officer who becomes close to his informant, the brother of one of the most wanted terrorists in the area. This is the first film to delve into the conflicting factions within the Palestinian Authority, and Hitham Omari became a breakout star for his performance as a disgruntled – and deadly – militia leader.
The movie is in Hebrew and Arabic, and the DVD features subtitles in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Bethlehem is in the PAL format and sells for NIS 79.90.