The 29th Jerusalem Film Festival is off and running. The most moving moment at
the opening last Thursday wasn’t anything in the movie, Woody Allen’s To Rome
with Love (Allen’s movies are beginning to remind me of the Gidget series –
Gidget Goes to Rome, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, etc., but with kvetching rather than
spunkiness). It came when Jerusalem Cinematheque and Festival Founder Lia van
Leer introduced Alesia Weston, the newly appointed cinematheque executive
“I am handing the flag to her,” said van Leer, who has often
been referred to as the Queen of Israeli Cinema. Film buffs throughout the
audience of thousands at the Sultan’s Pool Amphitheater choked up along with
Weston, who had the honor of declaring the festival officially open.
of the seven Israeli movies in competition for the Haggiag Family Award for
Israeli Cinema have been shown so far, and audiences have been mainly
Remember this is the festival where, in previous years, the
Oscar-nominated Ajami had its Israeli premiere, along with such acclaimed films
as Or, The Band’s Visit, Lebanon and many more. So expectations run high for the
Dana Goldberg’s Alice, about a mental health worker who
is emotionally crippled herself, and Amir Manor’s Epilogue, about an elderly
couple who feel out of place in the Israel of today, were well made, but are
unlikely to win this year’s competition. Benny Toraty’s The Ballad of the
Weeping Spring sharply divided audiences.
Some adored this pastiche of
spaghetti Western clichés woven into a story about a group of Mizrahi musicians,
torn apart by tragedy, who come together for one final concert. Others were just
not in the mood for oud.
Yariv Horowitz’s Rock the Casbah is a moving
film about the messiness and tragedy of the lives of IDF soldiers in Gaza in
1989. Meni Yaesh’s God’s Neighbors tells the story of a newly ultra-Orthodox
vigilante in Bat Yam who begins to question his principles, and it’s far more
engaging and nuanced than this brief description suggests.
Two of the
most anticipated Israeli features, Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void and Idan
Hubel’s The Cutoff Man were MIA, because they were accepted to the Venice
International Film Festival and their directors had to withdraw them. This rule
was not in place in 2009, when Shmuelik Maoz’s Lebanon was shown at the
Jerusalem Film Festival and went on to win the top prize at Venice, but
festivals are competing for dwindling numbers of good films these
Stay tuned for more festival news.