Just before the lights dimmed at the Ophir Awards at the Opera House in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, a member of the broadcast staff reminded the audience, a good portion of whom were nominees, "Please spit out your gum. It looks terrible if you win and go up on stage chewing gum. And please don't stick it under your chairs."
That pretty much summed up this year's Ophirs, formerly known as the Israeli Oscars, the prizes given by the Israeli Academy of Film: There was so little excitement in the air, potential winners couldn't be bothered to stop chewing their gum.
The predictable winners generated little or no excitement, for several reasons: There were so few movies compared to last year, most of this year's movies have not been shown at all outside of festival or private Academy screenings, and the critical response to the current crop has been lukewarm at best.
Eyal Halfon's What A Wonderful Place, a story of alienated Israelis and exploited foreign workers, took the top prize, as well as Best Screenplay (for Halfon), Best Actor (Uri Gavriel), and Best Editing. The only real surprise in the awards was that Halfon did not win Best Director. That honor went to Danny Sirkin, who directed Out of Sight, the story of a young woman whose best friend commits suicide.
Best Actress went to Sigalit Fuchs for her performance as a miserable woman who appears on a reality TV show in the movie, Joy. Fuchs, like Gavriel, professed to be surprised by her win, but had a speech prepared. She beat out Hanna Laslo, who was the surprise winner of the Best Actress Award at Cannes this year for her performance in Amos Gitai's Free Zone. Fuchs did seem to be the most genuinely happy winner of the night, although she could have gotten an award for the strangest hair-do, if such a prize existed.
The documentary 18 Kilos of Love, directed by Dani Menkin, the story of a disabled artist, was voted Best Documentary.
Veteran actors Rivka Michaeli and Assi Dayan won the supporting actor awards for their work in Joy and Comrade, respectively. Dayan, in New York for the opening of his daughter's gallery, did not make an appearance.
But who could blame Dayan for staying away? Even the host, Moni Moshonov, opened the show with jokes about the lackluster films this year. "Everyone agreed that 2004 was a great year for Israeli movies. And this year, everyone agrees that 2004 was a great year for Israeli movies," he quipped. "We didn't make enough movies this year. And the movies we did make just to read the plot summaries got me depressed. What's the matter? Did you forget your Prozac? But they're good movies. I haven't seen any of them, though. Nobody has. Even the directors haven't seen them."
This opening was the high point of the evening, which quickly degenerated into a tedious exercise in unfunny scripted banter, like the kind that makes the US Academy Awards so long and dull. Just about the only thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the fashion show. Many actresses looked elegant in genuine evening gowns and Chelli Goldenberg was lovely and understated in a simple black cocktail dress. Former supporting actress winners Hani Furstenberg and Dalit Kahan bucked the evening gown trend in short, colorful outfits.
The evening's biggest fashion faux pas (and there were quite a few) was the dress worn by Osnat Hakim, who starred this year in Delusions. She must have been deluded by what she saw in the mirror, because her dress, which was slinky and black on top, had a mustard-colored floor-length skirt with a bustle, which was completely open in the front, to reveal her legs in white tights. Suffice it to say that the dress was so bad it made this beautiful, slender actress look ungainly, no easy task. Next year, keep it simple, Osnat. Israel's most flamboyant actress, Ronit Elkabatz, was sorely missed at the dull ceremony, although she was the butt of a few jokes.
A tribute to the late composer Ehud Manor was respectful but came so late in the proceedings it was hard not get a little restless. Towards the end, at least a third of the audience was snacking in the lobby, smoking outside the hall or buying some new gum.
But there was one delightful surprise, the biggest of the entire evening, when Livia Hon, Israel's premiere talent manager, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A short film was screened, showing various clients praising her and among them was Uri Zohar. At one time, a brilliant comedian/actor/writer/director, a kind of Israeli Lenny Bruce, in the late Seventies, Zohar changed his life and became an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. For over 20 years, he has refused to make any public appearances except those on behalf of one religious organization or another. But here he was, praising his former agent, as clips played of him in the very funny, very vulgar 1972 film Peeping Toms. At the end, he blew Hon a kiss, adding, "Through the camera, it's permitted."