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Director Amos Gitai has received a rare honor. It has just been announced that his films will be the subject of a retrospective by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which will present nine of his movies at the Walter Reade Theater in New York, starting on November 30. Films to be shown include his most recent, Free Zone, the story of an Israeli cab driver trying to do business in Jordan's free-trade zone, which won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for its star, Hanna Laszlo; Kippur, based on Gitai's memories of the Yom Kippur War; and Kedma, the story of a ship bringing illegal immigrants in the pre-state period.
Gitai has won great acclaim worldwide, but in Israel his films tend to be given a much cooler reception. Even the press release for the retrospective acknowledges some of the weaknesses that characterize his work: "Always controversial, Gitai's films can be contradictory, uneven, at times excessive, but they're never easily forgettable." But the press release goes on to say: "Now more than ever, his films - both fiction and documentary - appear to be one of the most vital bodies of work in cinema today."
Here in Israel, we are more put off by the contradictions, unevenness (some might call it sloppiness) and excess than critics abroad. Even among those here who agree with Gitai's left-wing political stance, there is often little enthusiasm for his work.
The director himself is philosophical about the way his work is received here and abroad, and, from a professional point of view, it certainly benefits him to be celebrated internationally rather than locally. Perhaps, since Gitai is the first Israeli director to win such international recognition, foreign critics are partly responding to the novelty of seeing Israeli films. It's hard to know exactly why some artists are received so differently at home than they are abroad.
A RARELY SEEN ISRAELI movie, directed by Micha Shagrir, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Jerusalem Film Festival, Sayarim (1967) is showing at the Jerusalem Cinematheque tonight at 10 p.m. It stars fellow Jerusalem Film Festival honoree Zeev Revah as an officer in a special unit on a mission to capture a terrorist.
On Sunday at 9:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, you can see the award-winning documentary Promises, by B.Z. Goldberg, Carlos Bolado and Justine Shapiro. It's an idealistic look at connections (and the lack of them) among Jewish and Palestinian youth, and was filmed between 1995 and 1998, a period of relative calm.
JARHEAD, one of the most hyped US fall releases, has just come out and has received extremely weak reviews. Based on the memoirs of a veteran of the first Gulf War, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal (supposedly the next big star) as a US soldier stationed in Saudi Arabia and going out of his mind with boredom. Kyle Smith, a critic for the New York Post who actually served in that war, was outraged by what he characterized as the film's inaccuracies: "[Author Anthony] Swofford and director Sam Mendes, who come nowhere near even getting the uniforms right, approach this non-story about inaction by passing the time with macho posturing, pornographic fantasies and feverish imaginings borrowed from other war movies. I'm not saying Jarhead, exaggerates. I'm saying it lies from beginning to end."
Smith proceeds to list the movie's many factual errors, such as the fact that the men didn't play football wearing anti-nerve gas suits (including gas masks) in 112 F weather. Smith then asks: "Do I quibble over details? Details are all the movie offers." A.O. Scott, writing in The New York Times, does not discuss the veracity of the movie, but has a similar critical assessment: "It is a movie that walks up to some of the most urgent and painful issues of our present circumstance, clears its throat loudly and, with occasional flourishes of impressive rhetoric, says nothing."
IF YOU'VE ONLY seen Fellini's La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, you haven't really seen Fellini. The late Italian filmmaker had a much darker side, and it's on display in his 1969 Satyricon, showing today at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at 4 p.m. Loosely based on the Petronius classic about the decay of the Roman Empire, it has been described as sensuous, but although there is a lot of sex, rarely has sex been portrayed on screen in such a cold, ugly manner. And there is violence. In the opening minutes, a crowd cheers as they pay to watch a beggar have his arm cut off (a form of entertainment that apparently did exist in Roman times), and this sets the tone for everything that follows. The two heroes (or anti-heroes) are portrayed by vacuous blond American surfers whose dialogue was dubbed into Italian.
It's an extremely disturbing film from start to finish, and holds up remarkably well.
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