Whatever movies win the Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israel Academy for Film,
which will be presented on September 21 in the Krieger Auditorium in Haifa, the
stakes are higher than ever.
The Ophir Awards have taken on more
significance in recent years, as the Israeli film industry has gained
international recognition. The winner of the Ophir Award for Best Picture is
Israel’s official selection for a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the
US Academy Awards.
In the past five years, four Israeli films have
received one of the five coveted nominations in this category: Joseph Cedar’s
Beaufort and Footnote, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir and Yaron Shani and
Scandar Copti’s Ajami. Although none of them won, receiving so many nominations
has been a big boost for the Israeli film industry.
But it’s still a
small industry, and the glaring omission of two of the year’s best films from
the Ophir categories – Eytan Fox’s Yossi and Amni Livne’s Sharqiya – raises the
question not of the academy members’ taste but of their judgment. Fox’s film was
a spirited, very enjoyable follow-up to his 2002 film Yossi & Jagger and
featured some of the year’s best acting.
Sharqiya, which won the Best
Israeli Feature Film Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer, is a
realistic look at a young Beduin man who works as a security guard.
keeping these two distinguished but nomination-less films in mind, here is a
list of Ophir nominations I would like to have seen:
Best Actors Who Weren’t
Nominated for an Ophir
Ohad Knoller, who reprises his role from Yossi &
Jagger in Yossi. Knoller won a Best Actor Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in
2003 for his performance in Yossi & Jagger and appeared in Joseph Cedar’s
Beaufort, Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Fox’s The Bubble, as well as the TV
Adnan Abu Wadi, the lead actor in Sharqiya. Abu
Wadi, a non-professional, holds the screen with his quiet, low-key presence and
is in virtually every frame of the film. At the premiere party following the
film’s screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival, this actor was mobbed by fans
and movie-industry types hoping to cast in him in more films.
Performance by an Israeli Actor in a Hollywood Film (this category has been
extended to include movies from the past five years)
Alon Aboutboul (actually
nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Ophir this year for his role in The
Dealers) for playing an Eastern European scientist whose invention is stolen by
the bad guys in The Dark Knight Rises (his character is named Dr. Pavel) and for
his role as a master terrorist in Body of Lies (2008). Aboutboul was equally at
ease being tortured by a villain in Dark Knight as he was as a brilliant but
evil terror leader in Body of Lies.
Ashraf Barhom – He was a Saudi
policeman in The Kingdom and part of a large ensemble in the tempest-in-a-toga
movie Clash of the Titans. The actor, who appeared quite memorably in the
Israeli films The Syrian Bride and Colombian Love, stars in two upcoming Israeli
films – Eran Ricklis’s Zaytoun, about an Israeli pilot shot down over Lebanon,
and Hiam Abbass’s Inheritance, about the conflicts among members of a family in
Uri Gavriel (actually nominated for a Best Actor Ophir this
year for his performance as a brooding musician in The Ballad of the Weeping
Spring) for his small but key role in The Dark Knight Rises as a character
listed in the credits as Blind Prisoner and for his equally important role in
the 2007 film The Kingdom as a master terrorist. His trademark glower was
appropriately menacing in these parts.
Ayelet Zurer (who hasn’t appeared
in an Israeli movie since 2007) for her role opposite Tom Hanks in Angels &
Demons (2009), the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, as a character named Vittoria
Vetra. This beautiful actress was a bit wan as she ran from church to church
with an oddly coiffed Hanks but was credible as an Italian. She’ll be seen next
in as part of Superman’s biological family in the upcoming Man of Steel starring
Henry Cavill and Russell Crowe.
Most Intriguing Movie Israelis Haven’t
Ultra-Orthodox director Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void was shown at
film festivals in Venice (where its young star, Hadas Yaron, won the Best
Actress Award) and Toronto, but it won’t be shown here until the Haifa
International Film Festival in October.
Ophir Best Picture Nominee Most
Likely Not To Succeed Abroad
A five-way tie among all of them: The Ballad of the
Weeping Spring, an elaborate conceit based on the Seven Samurai about a group of
Mizrahi musicians reuniting for one last concert; Fill the Void, about a young
haredi bride-to-be whose family is struck by tragedy; God’s Neighbors, the story
of a newly devout Breslav Hassid in Bat Yam who, along with friends, terrorizes
secular neighbors; The World Is Funny, a comedy unlikely to strike those outside
Israel as very humorous; and Rock the Casbah, a drama about a group of Israeli
soldiers policing the Gaza Strip in the 1980s.
As for the actual Ophir
ceremony, expect to see an overly long broadcast, rumpled men in jeans and
T-shirts, and starlets in slinky gowns.