Only in Israel: Cinema in the Dining Hall, a weekend-long festival of Israeli films about kibbutz life, will take place from January 4-6 at Kibbutz Kissufim in the Western Negev. This kibbutz was the childhood home of director Dror Shaul, whose recently released film, Sweet Mud, is a semi-autobiographical look at his traumatic childhood there. Shaul will present his film at this festival (he has already showed it there to kibbutz members, who surprised him with their positive reaction). His earlier film, the black comedy, Operation Grandma, about how a kibbutz refuses to bury one of its elderly members, will be shown as well, as will the films, A Boy Takes a Girl by Michal Bat Adam and There Are No Names On the Doors by Nadav Leviatan. The festival will include meetings with filmmakers, critics and actors, including Ronit Yudekovich, the star of Sweet Mud. For further information, call (08) 992-8777 or 0547-917-999 or go to www.kissufim.org.il
JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL notes: At press time, the Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque is still on, but even at the halfway mark, this ambitious festival has already had some memorable moments. After the screening of Festival Achievement Award winner Michael Verhoeven's documentary about the Wehrmacht, The Forgotten Soldier, the audience sat in stunned silence. There was no applause. I've seen many Holocaust documentaries and films, as I'm sure the vast majority of the audience had, but Verhoeven's movie moved me as few films on this subject have. Unlike German audiences, who responded to the film because it smashed their image of the Wehrmacht as noble soldiers, who committed no atrocities during World War II, I imagine very few members of the Israeli audience cherished any illusions about integrity of the National Socialist Army. We were just shocked by seeing pictures of these atrocities from a different perspective. It's a tribute to Verhoeven's incredible gifts as a filmmaker that his film held the audience spellbound although no one found its premise shocking. Perhaps, too, there was something refreshing, just after the Holocaust deniers' conference in Tehran, which garnered so much international attention, to see German historians describing how extensive was the German army's participation in the killing of Jews. Last week, on a CNN broadcast about the conference, the anchor followed up the report by adding that "historians generally believe" that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, which made me feel that there couldn't be a better moment for The Forgotten Soldier to be released.
Director Paul Verhoeven, who also received an achievement award, was here with his dramatic film, Black Book, a film about a young Jewish woman who joins the Dutch Resistance during World War II and is swept up in a series of intrigues. Although the heroine has more narrow escapes than you'd find anywhere outside a James Bond movie, Paul Verhoeven said the film was a composite of several true stories. Like The Forgotten Soldier, it takes on a sacred cow the heroism of the resistance movement, several members of which are shown to be murderous, cynical opportunists and anti-Semites here --- but presents it as a suspense drama, filled with sex and violence. As the director spoke before the screening, he described his struggle to get the film financed. This was surprising, given his status as an A-list Hollywood director, who has made such megahits as Total Recall (starring the man who is currently the governor of California), Basic Instinct and Robocop. Apparently, the Resistance is a very uncommerical subject - no matter how much sex and action there is along the way. His decision to shoot the film in Dutch and German, instead of having everyone speak oddly accented English, probably made it harder for him to raise the money as well. Speaking of sex, Black Book's leading lady, Carice van Houten, has the screen presence of an oldtime Hollywood goddess. In her brief scenes in Israel, filmed here last spring, she delivers her few lines of Hebrew with aplomb.
The festival's opening film, a mildly funny comedy, Keeping Up With the Steins, starring Jeremy Piven from the HBO series Entourage, was a bit of a disappointment. The vulgar, materialistic bar mitzvahs shown weren't quite as funny as they should have been (or nearly as bitterly funny as the bat mitzvah Piven throws for his daughter on an episode of Entourage," in which he spends the entire party trying to call attention to his connection to his most famous client) and the obligatory scenes of heart-warming redemption were just dull. In spite of this slight disappointment, though, it's been a festival to remember.