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While some filmmakers (among them Ken Loach, whose film Looking for Eric was just shown at the recently concluded 25th Haifa International Film Festival) keep calling on a boycott of festivals where Israeli films are shown, Israeli films continue to win honors throughout the world. When some of the nominations for the awards of the European Film Academy were announced recently (the rest will come out early next month) no one was surprised that Ajami, the drama about crime in Jaffa co-directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, was among the nominees for 'European Discovery'. It's an oddly named category, but includes films made outside of Europe that have played at European film festivals (Ajami won a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in May). Another Israeli film, The Band's Visit by Eran Kolirin, won the European Discovery Award two years ago and there is no question that Ajami has a real shot. That's not to mention the fact that it swept the Ophir awards, the prizes of the Israel Academy for Film, which means it is Israel's official entry to be considered for a Best Foreign Language Oscar. It faces stiff competitions from movies from 64 other countries, but it may well get Israel's third Oscar nomination in a row. The short-list for the Oscars will be announced in January.
Yoav Shamir's documentary Defamation also received a nomination in the European Film Academy's 'Best Documentary' category.
Samuel (Shmuelik) Maoz's Lebanon was featured in the New York Film Festival (there are no prizes there, it's an honor just be included) and generated mostly positive buzz [you can read an interview with Samuel Maoz in the Jerusalem Post Magazine today]. Like Ajami, it already has a US distributor and recently opened in Rome, after winning the top prize at the Venice Film Festival last month.
I didn't have a chance to catch all the Israeli movies at the festival, but the winner, Five Hours from Paris, about a Bat Yam cabdriver (Dror Keren) who falls in love with a classical musician, sounded like fun. The two that I saw, Zion and His Brother and Bena, were disappointing to say the least. Bena was an utterly pointless and agonizing film about a mentally disabled boy (Michael Moshonov) who sexually abuses his Thai caregiver, and Zion was about two brothers involved in the accidental death of a third boy. If I never see another movie with Ronit Elkabetz playing a slutty single mother sitting around yelling at her kids, it will be too soon. The ubiquitous Tzahi Grad plays her unsympathetic boyfriend. Elkabetz is an amazing actress - won't someone please give her an amazing script?
The opening night movie at the Haifa Film Festival, the feather-light comedy, Taking Woodstock, is already playing here and the closing-night film, An Education, just opened. It's directed by Lone Scherfig, who made the acclaimed Italian for Beginners, and was written by novelist Nick Hornby (from a memoir by Lynn Barber). I am a great admirer of Hornby's work (three of his books have been made into well-received films, High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch) so I was anxious to see it and I wasn't disappointed. It's the story of a 16-year-old girl, Jenny (beautifully played by newcomer Carey Mulligan) who is growing up in a respectable, middle-class family in the early Sixties. Her father (Alfred Molina) dreams that she will go to Oxford, but there isn't much fun in her life. Not until she meets a mysterious and older stranger, David (Peter Sarsgaard) who sweeps her off her feet. Some of the plot turns strain credulity, but this is a subtle film about a girl's complex coming-of-age, made with affection for all the characters. Emma Thompson is good in a brief role as Jenny's dour headmistress. It's currently playing daily at the Jerusalem Cinematheque's Auditorium 3 and at other theaters throughout the country.
Science-fiction buffs will be pleased to learn that hit film, District 9, about aliens that appear in the crowded slums of South Africa, is also opening this week. Zombieland, which features Woody Harrelson blowing away troublesome zombies, opens here in two weeks.
But there's bad news for Coen Brothers fans. Their latest, the well-reviewed A Serious Man, won't be coming to Israel for another two months.