New Israeli movies coming to a theater near you

It’s shaping up to be an amazing season for the Israeli film industry at Cannes and at home.

May 30, 2013 12:13
3 minute read.
Ari Folman’s film The Congress

Ari Folman’s film The Congress. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A lot went on at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from May 15-26, including new films by the Coen brothers, Roman Polanski, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh and many others. But some of the most intense buzz concerns Israeli director Ari Folman’s follow-up to Waltz with Bashir (2008), The Congress , which was the opening film of the Director’s Fortnight section.

The Congress, like Waltz with Bashir , combines animation and live action. It’s loosely based on a Polish science-fiction novel by Stanislaw Lev and stars Robin Wright, playing herself. But the science fiction part kicks in when studio executives offer her the chance to be replaced by a digital version of herself that will stay young forever. It’s a long way from Beirut for Folman, who used a mostly Israeli crew on this German/Israeli/Polish co-production, which features Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti and Jon Hamm. The film is set to open in Europe and Israel this summer.

Raphael Nadjari’s latest film, A Strange Course of Events, is also premiering at the Cannes Director’s Fortnight. The French-Israeli Nadjari, who made the films Avanim and Tehillim in Israel and is married to Israeli actress Sarah Adler, has made another drama about a troubled family.

A Strange Course of Events stars Ori Pfeffer as a lonely divorced man in Haifa who has a troubled relationship with his estranged father, played by Moni Moshonov.

Moshonov has a key role in a different upcoming movie, Reshef Levy’s Hunting Elephants , which will open the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 4.

Hunting Elephants also stars Patrick Stewart – yes, that’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard or Professor Charles Xavier, depending on whether you are into Star Trek or X-Men – as one of a group of retired, elderly thieves living in Jerusalem who get back together for one big score to help out a 12-year-old boy. Sasson Gabay, who is best known for his role in The Band’s Visit , which won him the European Film Award Best Actor prize, is another of the film’s stars. Reshef Levy created the Israeli television series The Arbitrator and made the popular film Lost Islands .

John Cleese was initially set to star in Hunting Elephants but had to drop out due to illness. Stewart, who said in interviews that he was excited to work in Israel, agreed to replace him.

And on June 6, The Wonders will be opening throughout Israel. The film is Avi Nesher’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2010 film The Matchmaker . Co-written by Shaanan Streett, the frontman for the band Hadag Nahash, The Wonders is a noir mystery set in Jerusalem. It mixes live action and animation (although it is mostly live) in a dark and very funny story loaded with literary and biblical references, especially to Alice in Wonderland . It stars Ori Hizkiah as Arnav, a graffiti artist/bartender who becomes concerned when he thinks that a renowned ultra-Orthodox rabbi (Yehuda Levy) is being held captive in a building across the way.

As he tries to unravel the rabbi’s secrets, he meets a gruff private investigator (Adir Miller) and a mystery woman (Yuval Scharf).

Singer Efrat Gosh plays Arnav’s ex- girlfriend, a waitress who has recently become ultra-Orthodox. All the actors are strong, but the movie is a breakthrough for Yehuda Levy, who has never had such a meaty dramatic role before.

Unrecognizable in a long beard and black clothes, he proves that he is much more than just another handsome soap opera star. The movie’s songs are by Hadag Nahash, and the original score is by Avner Dorman.

So the new wave of Israeli cinema continues.

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