The awards for Israeli films just keep coming this year. Following the big wins for Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud at Sundance and Joseph Cedar's Beaufort at the Berlin International Film Festival, Danny Lerner's Frozen Days just won the top award at the Cinema Novo Festival in Belgium. Frozen Days, a beautifully made and intense film about an alienated young woman in Tel Aviv, was released in Israel last year. Although Cinema Novo is not as famous a festival as Sundance or Berlin, it is always notable when an Israeli film takes the top prize in an international festival. The festival jury's decision for Frozen Days, was unanimous. In their statement, the judges wrote: "A metaphorical story on a very complicated issue, brought to us in a straightforward manner."
IT'S BEEN TEN YEARS since Francis Ford Coppola has made a movie, but he has finished shooting his latest, Youth Without Youth, and it has acquired a distributor, Sony Pictures Classics. The movie is set for a late-fall release, which means the Sony executives think it has Oscar potential. Based on a novella by Romanian author (and anthropologist) Mircea Eliade, it tells the story of a professor (Tim Roth) forced to go on the run in the years just before World War II. Coppola explained why he was drawn to the project: "I was excited to discover in this tale by Eliade, the key themes I most hope to understand better: Time, consciousness and the dream-like basis of reality.
For me it is indeed a return to the ambitions I had for my work in cinema as a student." Coppola first made a name for himself with the The Godfather in 1972. He followed this groundbreaking movie (can you imagine The Sopranos without The Godfather films?) with the existential, paranoid espionage thriller, The Conversation and the rare sequel that matched the original, The Godfather: Part II, both of which were released in 1974. In 1979, he released Apocalypse Now, a brilliant movie that took more than three years to make and was plagued by all kinds of trouble on the set (anyone interested in this should rent the wonderful documentary about the making of the film, Hearts of Darkness). In 1986, his son, Gian-Carlo, was killed in a boating accident and since then, although he has directed several films and produced even more through American Zoetrope, his production company, his heart didn't seem to be in moviemaking anymore. Although he has assumed the role of a gray-bearded elder statesman in American moviemaking (and a trusted advisor to his filmmaker daughter, Sofia Coppola, whose last movie was Marie Antointette, and to his nephews, actors Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman), he is just 67, an age at which many directors' talents are beginning to peak. So expectations for Youth Without Youth are especially high. In addition to Roth, it co-stars Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Laura, who played Hitler and his secretary in Downfall. Let's hope Youth turns out to be as interesting as it sounds.
Saturday night at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at 10:15, there is a preview screening of the megahit, 300. The film opens throughout Israel next week. Based on a "graphic novel" (those of us over 40 used to call them comic books), it tells the story of the Spartan fighters in the battle of Thermopylae against the Persians in 480 B.C., with what New York Post reviewer Kyle Smith describes as "designer carnage." Smith goes to town with a series of puns and put-downs in his review, as he calls the Spartan king, "Onan the Barbarian," and writes: "[The movie's] philosophical underpinnings are not freedom and courage but Itchy and Scratchy." Itchy and Scratchy, for those who aren't Simpsons fans, are the cartoon duo whose ultraviolent antics keep Bart Simpson endlessly amused. Smith continues: "Rampaging in his leather Speedo, [Leonidies] murders wounded enemies, desecrates their remains, insults allies and confuses death with glory. His troops are like al Qaeda in adult diapers." On the bright side, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week, "Today they are trying to tamper with history by making a film and by making Iran's image look savage." He didn't specify which film or who "they" are, but it's pretty clear.