Normally, at this
time of year, Oscar buzz is the soundtrack of the Israeli movie
After all, Israeli films – features, documentaries and shorts –
have received seven Oscar nominations in the last six years, and chalked up one
win, for the documentary short, Strangers No More, in 2011. But this year, no
Israeli films made it onto the Oscar short list for either Best Foreign Language
Film or Best Documentary. So when the Oscar nominations are announced in
Hollywood on January 16, there won’t be any big suspense here.
nods are only one sign of the health of the movie industry, and by any other
measure, it’s been a banner year for Israeli film.
While Joseph Cedar,
Israel’s two-time Foreign Language Oscar nominee (for Beaufort and Footnote) did
not make a film this year and is reportedly going to make his next movie in New
York, several of Israel’s other top directors released films this
Avi Nesher’s The Wonders, which received rave reviews here and got
an American distributor after it was shown at the Toronto International Film
Festival, is an extraordinarily original and enjoyable film that was a hit with
Israeli audiences. Following a trend of having more movies made in Jerusalem,
The Wonders is a contemporary film noir blend of thriller and comedy, with just
a little bit of animation, that illuminates the soul of the Holy
Ari Folman, the director whose Waltz with Bashir, the 2008
genre-bending animated documentary about the Lebanon War, was an international
sensation, released his follow-up this year, the mixed live-action/animated
feature film, The Congress, based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem. Starring Robin
Wright, Harvey Keitel and Jon Hamm, the film premiered at the Cannes Film
Festival last spring. In early December, it won the Best Animated Feature prize
at the European Film Academy awards, where Asaf Sudri also took home the prize
for Best Cinematography for Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void. Once again, in spite
of the BDS movement, Israeli movies have triumphed again and again in Europe,
and are more widely shown there than in the US.
Bethlehem, the stunning
directorial debut of Yuval Adler, won the Ophir Best Picture Award – the prize
of the Israel Academy for Film and Television – for this gripping drama about an
Israeli Shin Bet agent and his complex relationship with his young informant, a
Palestinian terrorist’s brother. The suspenseful film was the first Israeli
movie to take a hard look at the complex and shifting loyalties in the West
Bethlehem is slated for release in several European cities this
winter, and also has a US distributor. Interestingly, Palestinian director Hany
Abu Assad’s Omar, a movie which did make the Oscar Best Foreign Film shortlist,
has a strikingly similar plot.
Like Bethlehem, many of the most
successful Israeli movies this year were dark. Aharon Keshales and Navot
Papushado, who made history with the first Israeli horror film, Rabies, a few
years ago, followed it up with the extremely gory psychological thriller Big Bad
The film tells the story of a bereaved father who tortures the
man he thinks raped and killed his daughter. Big Bad Wolves drew standing
ovations at horror film festivals around the world, as well as praise from none
other than Quentin Tarantino, who called the movie “the best film of the
Tom Shoval’s Youth was the big winner at the Jerusalem Film
Festival this summer, taking the top prize. The film is about two sociopathic
brothers who, in a misguided attempt to help their financially strapped parents,
kidnap a girl and hold her for ransom.
Johnathan Gurfinkel’s S#x Acts,
written by Rona Segal, is a painful drama about a teenage girl in the Tel Aviv
who uses sex to try to gain acceptance at her new school. It may sound like a
familiar story, but the film’s quasi-documentary style and strong performance by
Sivan Levy in the lead give it a memorable intensity.
When the film was
screened for the Knesset to show the dangers of peer pressure and sexual abuse,
several MKs walked out, calling the film offensive.
But not all of the
movies that made headlines this year were hard-hitting dramas. Eytan Fox, a
director best known for his dramas about gay life in the army and in Tel Aviv,
made a movie, Cupcakes (Bananot in Hebrew), that bucked the trend of serious
The film tells the story of a group of friends in Tel Aviv who
compose a song that becomes Israel’s entry in a Eurovision-like song contest,
and features lavish production numbers and good-natured banter.
coming up in 2014? Two Israeli documentaries will be competing at the Sundance
Film Festival in January. Nadav Schirman’s The Green Prince is a look at a
Palestinian informant and his relationship with his handler, a film that sounds
much like a reallife version of Bethlehem. Web Junkie, directed by Hilla
Medalia, is about a rehab for Internet addicts in China.
Folman announced that his next film would be an animated version of The Diary of
Anne Frank. Eytan Fox is in pre-production for his next film, a biopic of the
Israeli singer Mike Brant, who became a huge pop star in France and then
So here’s to a 2014 that will be filled with as many
blue-white cinematic gems as this past year.