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The Haifa International Film Festival, which will take place this year during the Succot holiday as usual, has released a partial list of its programs, and it will be presenting a record number of new Israeli films, 75 in all, including feature films, documentaries, television dramas, shorts and animated films. Some of the big names in Israeli filmmaking have made films that will premiere at Haifa, including Amos Gitai, the director whose films are critical smashes all over the world but who tends to get less respect and attention at home. His new film, Disengagement, which will be showing at Toronto and Venice soon, focuses on a French woman, played by Juliette Binoche, who was born in Israel and comes back during the disengagement two years ago to reclaim a baby she gave up for adoption. Gitai, perhaps because of his status as an international icon, has a track record in attracting stars like the Oscar-winning Binoche to his films. His last feature, Free Zone, featured Israel-born American star Natalie Portman, although the performer who snagged the Best Actress prize at Cannes for that film was Israel's own Hanna Laslo, who can currently be seen on the telenovela Our Song. Gitai has chosen not to show many of his films at Israeli festivals in recent years, so it's nice that he has gotten back into the Israeli film scene with this latest effort. Perhaps the fact that he grew up in Haifa is part of the reason. In any case, he is an important Israeli filmmaker and his presence at the film festival will be welcome.
Dover Kosashvilli will also be presenting his latest film, Maftir, at the festival. The Georgian-born Israeli director made a big splash several years ago with A Late Wedding, a look at the conflict of a student trying to break away from his traditional Georgian family. His new film, Maftir, tells the story of a prisoner whose brother is murdered right before he is released from jail. He plans to honor his brother's memory at the synagogue and to avenge his brother's death on the streets.
Ali Nasser, the Israeli Arab director who made In the Ninth Month and The Milky Way, both of which focused on Arabs in the Galilee, has just made Waiting for Salah A-Din. It tells the story of a man from a Galilee village who heads for the big city to search for his lost love, Lila. The director uses the setting as a forum to explore and critique contemporary urban Israel.
AFTER THE HAIFA International Film Festival, in mid-October, Israeli film buffs can look forward to a visit by maverick American director, David Lynch, who will be a guest of the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv Cinematheques. He will give talks at the three Cinematheques, as well as at Sam Spiegel and will meet with film students and high school students. Lynch, who most recently directed Inland Empire, starring Laura Dern, and has made such cult classics as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, has always struck me as a genuinely strange person. So many directors try to put on an eccentric persona, but the guy who came up with that ear crawling with ants in Blue Velvet must really be a little weird. So it'll be interesting to hear what he has to say when he's here.
That reminds me of a typo that ran in the Jerusalem Cinematheque program when Blue Velvet was being shown many years ago. It said that the movie starts when a young man discovers an "ear crawling with aunts." Depending on what your family is like, that could be a terrifying image and it's one that I've spent years trying to get out of my head.
FOLLOWING THE RECENT death of Ingmar Bergman, the Jerusalem Cinematheque is showing one of his early films, the 1949 Thirst, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Bergman, who had nine children and was married five times (but who's counting?), paints a grim portrait of marriage in this film, which was released in the US as Three Strange Loves. It follows a married couple returning to Sweden from Italy and details their quarrels, reconciliation and flashbacks to other times in their lives.