When Hadas Yaron became the first Israeli actress to win the top award at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month, it capped a year of new triumphs for Israeli cinema.
Yaron, an 18-year-old whose day job is waiting tables in a Dizengoff Street café, stars in the most talked about movie that Israelis haven’t yet seen, Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void.
The movie, which had its world premiere in Venice, moves on to the Toronto International Film Festival this week and the New York Festival later this month. But Israelis won’t get to see it until the Haifa International Film Festival in October.
Made by a filmmaker who became ultra-Orthodox as an adult, it tells the story of a young woman, played by Yaron, who struggles when tragedy strikes her family. It’s also likely to win a few Ophir Awards when the prizes of the Israel Academy for Film are held on September. 21. The movie that wins the Ophir for Best Picture will automatically become Israel’s official selection for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. This doesn’t mean Israel will get a nomination – approximately 60 countries submit films and only five films receive nominations – but in four out of the past five years, Israeli movies have been nominated.
Although Beaufort, Waltz with Bashir, Ajami and Footnote did not win, the thrill of being part of that high-profile competition was undeniably good for the local industry.
Fill the Void has a strong chance, but it will have competition at the Ophirs from several other well-received films.
One of the standouts at the Jerusalem Film Festival this year was God’s Neighbors, a movie directed by Meni Yaesh about an ordinary young man (Roy Assaf) who becomes ultra- Orthodox and finds himself striking out violently against others around him who don’t share his piety. The film is far more complex and appealing than this summary may make it sound, and this is a movie that should find an audience all over the world.
Ami Livne’s Sharqiya, an impressive drama about a Beduin family trying to hang onto their home and cope with the challenges of the modern world, was the winner of the top prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Like Dana Goldberg’s somber but well-made drama Alice, another festival film, it has yet to be released commercially.
Israeli audiences continued to attend local films in large numbers this year, and the satirical The World Is Funny, directed by Shemi Zarhin (who made Aviva, My Love), was the box office winner this year. It stars many familiar faces from television, including Wonderful Country’s Eli Finish and other well-loved actors such as Assi Levy, Moshe Ivgy, Dror Keren and Rotem Zussman (who also had an outstanding supporting turn in God’s Neighbors).
While most of the films released this year were the first or second effort of young directors, some of Israel’s better-known directors made films as well. Eytan Fox returned to a familiar character in Yossi, a sequel to his 2002 film Yossi & Jagger. His hero, 10 years older and much wearier but no wiser, is still struggling with the loss of his lover in combat in the previous film.
Mired in his depression, he leaves Tel Aviv and heads for Eilat, where a chance meeting with a group of soldiers turns his life around. Ohad Knoller, one of Israel’s best actors, gives a particularly moving performance here, and the young heartthrob Oz Zehavi gives a strong supporting performance.
Dover Kosashvili, best known for his 2001 film A Late Wedding, made the disappointing Single Plus, a movie that tried but failed to find humor in the pressures on a young single woman.
Two of Israel’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Ari Folman and Avi Nesher, are still in post-production on their latest films, The Congress and The Wonders, respectively.
Both films are a combination of live action and animation, but the similarity ends there.
The Congress is in English and stars Hollywood actors Harvey Keitel, Robin Wright and Paul Giamatti. The Wonders, set in Jerusalem, is in Hebrew and features Adir Miller, the TV actor and stand-up comic who moved into dramatic acting in Nesher’s The Secrets and The Matchmaker.
Several other promising films are set to be released soon after their local premieres at the Haifa Film Festival, including Hiam Abbass’s Inheritance and Michael Mayer’s Out in the Dark.
So next year promises to be as bright on Israeli silver screens as this year was.