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Israel will have an important presence at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which starts on May 17 and runs through May 28, since May 21 has been declared "Israel Film Day," as part of the special program, "Tous Les Cinemas du Monde." This program spotlights seven countries with film industries that are developing rapidly, among them Israel. The Cannes official Website gets it right when it states: "In Israel, the productions probe deeper into the lives of individuals and less into political events. [The Israeli films being shown on this program are] . . . products of a multicultural society, a profusion of film schools, a proactive public policy, and an openness to the cinema of others." The chosen films are a mixed bag and it's unfortunate that this year has generally been lackluster for Israeli movies. They include the just-released coming-of-age drama Comrade; the TV-movie style melodrama about incest, Out of Sight; and Things Behind the Sun, the story of a troubled family that has not yet been released here. In addition, Tali Shemesh's highly praised The Cemetery Club, a documentary about opinionated, elderly Israelis will be shown, along with several short films.
LAST YEAR, Israeli Hanna Laszlo took home the Cannes Award for Best Actress for her performance in Amos Gitai's The Free Zone, but this year, Israel is not in the running for the high-profile prizes, since no Israeli films are nominated in the feature film competition. But Israel has a presence on the feature film jury, since Nazareth-born director Elia Suleiman (who identifies himself as Palestinian) is serving as a juror this year. Suleiman's Divine Intervention won the Jury Prize in 2002 at Cannes.
A number of Israeli short films will be shown at Cannes, both in and out of competition. These include Dover Kosashvilli's Kishta, as part of the Atelier program, which features films that show a "shared awareness of the planet," whatever that means; Yaniv Bergman of Tel Aviv University's Even Kids Started Small and Nadav Lapid of Sam Spiegel's Emilie's Girlfriend, both of which are competing in the Cinefondation category.
In spite of the general perception that France is an anti-Semitic country, the Cannes Film Festival has shown a great many Israeli films over the past few years and a number of these films have taken home important prizes. The Israel Film Day is the culmination of several years of prominence for Israeli films at the world's highest- profile film festival.
This year's festival jury in the feature film category is headed by Wong Kar Wai, best known for his moody, romantic films, 2046 and In the Mood for Love. Some important directors have new films in competition this year, including Pedro Almodovar, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Sofia Coppola, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Aki Kaurismaki, Bruno Dumont, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach and Nanni Moretti. But you can bet that these films will be eclipsed, as they generally are, by the big-budget, out-of-competition Hollywood films, including the festival's opening attraction, Ron Howard's adaptation of the megabestseller, The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, which has inspired protests (which have brought the film a huge amount of free publicity) by some Catholic groups. In addition, European audiences will get their first look at the story of one of the flights hijacked on 9/11, United 93, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival last month. The mix of the high-brow and the low-brow, the big Hollywood production and the artistic independent films, is what has kept attention focused on Cannes all these years.
THIS THURSDAY at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Yoav Shamir's documentary 5 Days is being screened at 8 p.m. It's the first feature-length look at the execution of the disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip last summer. Shamir will be on hand to answer questions after the film.
Another recent Israeli documentary will be shown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Monday at 7:30 p.m., Igal Bursztyn's Guide to the Perplexed. It takes the viewer on a journey Maimonides took in the 12th century from Spain to Tiberias and examines the relevance of the philosopher's texts to today's world.
On Saturday at 6 p.m., a classic from the archives, Roberto Rossellini's Open City (1945), will be screened, possibly to commemorate the anniversary of V-E Day last week. This powerful story of Resistance fighters in Italy during World War II stars Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani.
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