The British Film Festival is back, running from February 4-12 at the Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv cinematheques. It will showcase 10 new films that run the gamut from new takes on the classics to contemporary thrillers to documentaries.

It’s a welcome return for the popular festival, which was established a little over a decade ago but has been on hiatus for the past two years. The festival is the flagship project of the British Council, which promotes cultural cooperation between Britain and Israel.

Dr. Simon Kay, CEO of the British Council in Israel, says, “We are proud to bring the Israeli public the best of contemporary British cinema as part of our activities to promote mutual exchange of work between the UK and Israel. The films shown are the most talked-about films produced in Britain last year – most of the artists belong to the new generation of British cinema – and through them I get a fascinating picture of contemporary British society. The festival will be another channel to promote a new film agreement between Israel and the United Kingdom that allows co-productions, and we hope it will strengthen the creative and professional links between the two countries.”

The festival, which is programmed by British Council Arts Director Naomi Michaeli, also features live music and lectures on cinema. The weekend before the opening of the festival, on January 27, musician James Blake will DJ a party in Tel Aviv.

The opening movie is Andrea Arnold’s new version of Wuthering Heights. It’s a reworking of the beloved Emily Bronte classic, which is meant to shock its audiences as the original book scandalized readers.

Heathcliff is not a Gypsy but a runaway slave from the Caribbean, who uses profanity and fights back when he is called by a racial slur.

Viewers who remember earlier screen versions, notably the Merle Oberon- Laurence Olivier 1939 film directed by William Wyler, should be warned – this isn’t your grandmother’s Wuthering Heights. Arnold is known for her gritty, realistic films Fish Tank and Red Road.

Actor Ralph Fiennes – you known him as the lead in The English Patient, but to your kids, he’s Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies – has made his directing debut helming the dark Shakespeare tragedy Coriolanus. He has updated the setting from ancient Rome to contemporary Eastern Europe, and the film features gun battles and other scenes of street violence. It stars Fiennes and Gerard Butler (300) and, in supporting roles, Israeli-Arab actor Ashraf Barhom (Paradise Now, The Kingdom and Clash of the Titans) and Belgian actress Lubna Azabal, who appeared in the Israeli film Strangers.

Another well-known British actor, Paddy Considine, is making his directorial debut in the festival with the feature film Tyrannosaur, which he also wrote. It stars Peter Mullan as a man plagued by violent outbursts, and Olivia Colman as a Christian charity-shop worker who comes into his life. The film won the Directing Award and the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Considine also stars in Submarine, a quirky, coming-of-age comedy-drama about a precocious boy in Wales in the 1980s who tries to save his parents’ faltering marriage. The movie also stars Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham) and Noah Taylor (Shine).

Perfect Sense is an unusual combination of a science-fiction film and a romance. Directed by David Mackenzie, an acclaimed filmmaker who has made such films as Young Adam, it stars Ewan McGregor (Beginners, The Ghostwriter) and Eva Green (a Bond girl in Casino Royale).

It is set during a plague that attacks all the senses but touch. Green plays a scientist who begins an intense affair with a chef (McGregor).

The Bengali Detective is a documentary about a Kolkata private eye who is obsessed with dance, devoted to his ailing wife and fighting an uphill battle against crime. The film, which has received rave reviews, is being remade as a feature film, which is quite unusual for a documentary.

The closing film in this eclectic festival will be Shame, directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen. It stars Michael Fassbender as a loner in New York with a voracious sexual appetite whose life is turned upside down when his sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives for a visit.

Both Shame and Wuthering Heights will be released in Israel commercially after the festival.

For details, check the cinematheque websites.

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