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While many Israelis will be busy Thursday night making last-minute apologies to those they've wronged before Yom Kippur, film industry professionals will be sitting nervously at the Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israeli Academy of Film (aka the Israeli Oscars). The awards will be broadcast on Channel 2 at 9:05 p.m. tonight.
This is a highly competitive year, with a number of nominated films having already received popular and critical acclaim, both at home and abroad. Although winning Ophir Awards does not guarantee that a film will earn significantly more money, as winning an Oscar usually does, the winner of the Best Picture Award automatically becomes Israel's candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Around 60 countries enter a film to become one of the five nominees for this award. Winning the Ophir Award does not mean that the film will get one of the five available Foreign Language Oscar slots, only that it will be in contention. No Israeli film has received an Oscar nomination since Beyond the Walls in 1984, but this year, with so quality films vying for Ophirs, whichever film wins will have the best chance in years.
AND NOW, our annual Ophir Award Quiz (you need not have seen any of the nominated films to play).
1. This year, movies nominated for Ophir Awards won prizes at which major film festivals?
D) All of the above
To anyone following the Israeli film scene this year, the answer, D) All of the above, is the obvious choice. Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's Jellyfish won the Camera d'Or, the prize for a movie by first-time directors at Cannes, where Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit also picked up several prizes. Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, a look at Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, won the Best Director Award at Berlin. My Father My Lord, directed by David Volach, won the Best Narrative Film Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. In addition to all these awards, last year's Ophir Awards winner, Sweet Mud, took the prize for Best World Feature at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
2. An unusual number of nominated films were made by filmmakers who grew up Orthodox. Which ones are they?
A) Avi Nesher, who made The Secrets, a look at an Orthodox midrasha for young women, which received nominations for Best Actress , Best Supporting Actress , Best Supporting Actor, as well music and several technical awards
B) Joseph Cedar, whose Beaufort, follows a mainly secular group of soldiers in Lebanon
C) David Volach, the director of My Father My Lord, a look at an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem
D) Tzahi Grad, director of Foul Gesture, about a man who gets involved in a pointless feud.
The answer is b) Joseph Cedar and C) David Volach. Cedar is from a modern Orthodox and still identifies himself as Orthodox, while Volach, who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family, does not.
3. This decidedly secular Best Actor contender is nominated for playing an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, but it's not his first nomination for portraying a religious leader. In recent years, he's been cast as a settler leader and a rabble-rousing West Bank rabbi (in two films by Joseph Cedar, Time of Favor and Campfire. Is it:
A) Oshri Cohen in Beaufort
B) Assi Dayan in My Father My Lord
C) Sasson Gabai in The Band's Visit
D) Liron Levo in Strangers
E) Gal Zaid in Foul Gesture
It's B) Assi Dayan. The distinguished actor from the famous Dayan family (he's the son of Moshe Dayan) has added a new specialty to his career in recent years: Playing various kinds of Orthodox Jews. However, the prolific actor is probably best known these days for playing the shrink on the television show, In Therapy (B'Tipul). He's also the uncle of Shira Geffen, co-director of Jellyfish, and has a small role in that film as the father of the heroine.
Dayan, who has spoken publicly about his struggle with drug addiction, won the Best Actor Ophir Award last year for Things Behind the Sun. After he received the award, he did not step down from the podium and hung around for the remaining awards, occasionally stepping up to the microphone and saying something unclear. The winners and presenters of the evening's final awards just said, "Excuse me, Assi," and continued with their business. That's one of the "minor" differences between the Ophirs and the Oscars.
4. The actresses nominated for Ophir Awards play characters with a variety of occupations. Which career is not represented this year?
A) Bible student
D) Kiosk owner
The answer, fortunately for audiences, is C) prostitute. All the actresses portray their jobs realistically, and we are spared the pathos of seeing a hooker with a heart of gold.
5. Based on past awards-show appearances, which nominated actress is most likely to show up in an outlandish outfit, a la Cher?
A) Ronit Elkabetz for The Band's Visit
B) Mili Avital for Noodle
C) Keren Mor for Foul Gesture
D) Sarah Adler for Jellyfish
E) Ania Bokstein for The Secrets
If you've watched previous Ophir broadcasts, you know the answer is A) Ronit Elkabetz. When she won several years ago for A Late Wedding, the beautiful actress wore a long dress with a barely there halter top and had what's called a "wardrobe malfunction" when she picked up her award. Another year, introducing the mayor of Tel Aviv, she wore a see-through skirt with a black thong. When she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Or in 2004, she had a complete Goth get-up with dead-white makeup and a 19th-century style black gown and an elaborate hairstyle. At the Israeli premiere of The Band's Visit, though, she wore a very modest and becoming pink gown. She's likely to win again this year, so let's hope she adds some much-needed glamour and outrageousness to an awards show that has become more staid, more professional and much duller in recent years.
As for awards predictions, no one outside the Israeli film industry really cares who wins, but I'll give it a shot anyway. Joseph Cedar's Beaufort is an impressive film and may very well be Israel's best shot at winning an Oscar nomination. It's about soldiers and Americans can relate to Israelis as soldiers on screen more easily than as civilians. An Oscar nomination would be good for the entire Israeli film industry, so this is a consideration for many of the Ophir voters. In addition, Cedar's two previous films won the Best Picture Award, so the Israeli Academy obviously likes him. Beaufort will take Best Picture, but its strongest competition, The Band's Visit, will likely win the Best Actor and Actress Awards, for Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabay. Saleh Bacri will probably win Best Supporting Actor for his charming performance in that film as well. My pick for Best Supporting Actress would be Michal Shtamler in The Secrets, but my guess is that the award will go to Anat Waxman, who has won in previous years, and who does solid work in Noodle.
No matter who wins, it's one of the strongest years ever for Israeli movies.