It was the year of the woman at the Ophir Awards on Sunday night, as two films by and about the specific problems of Israeli women – and the universal issues of women everywhere – captured the lion’s share of the major awards.
Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem, co-directed by Ronit Elkabetz (who also starred in the film) and Shlomi Elkabetz, a sister- brother directing duo, took home the Best Picture Award, in a ceremony that was held for the first time ever in Ashdod, as a gesture of support for the cities of the South and their suffering in the recent war.
The winner of the Ophir Award, the prize given by the Israel Academy of Film, automatically becomes Israel’s selection for consideration for a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Every country has the right to submit one film in a language other than English to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the US.
At one time, this fact might have seemed unimportant, but in the past seven years four Israeli movies have been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film: Beaufort (2007) and Footnote (2011), both by Joseph Cedar; Waltz with Bashir (2008), by Ari Folman; and Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami (2009). Between 1985 and 2008, no Israeli movie received a nomination, although in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties a total of six Israeli films received nominations in this category.
To date, no Israeli feature film has ever won.
Gett, as its title suggests, is an indictment of Israel’s misogynistic divorce laws, shown through one woman’s struggle to divorce a husband she no longer loves, who refuses to grant her a divorce. This is the third film in a trilogy that the Elkabetz siblings based loosely on their family’s own story. The first part, To Take a Wife, was released in 2004, and detailed the heroine’s frustration in her marriage. It opened with her requesting a divorce from her husband, and being coerced by her own brothers to stay in the marriage. The second part, Shiva (2008), looked at the heroine’s extended family after the death of one of her brothers, but showed that she was still stuck in her marriage.
In Gett, set entirely in the divorce court, she pleads with her husband and the judges for years to get a divorce.
In addition to the Best Picture Award, Gett won the award for Best Supporting Actor for Sasson Gabai, for his performance as a rabbi representing his brother before the court. Gabai previously won an Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor for Time of the Cherries in 1991. He also won a Best Actor Award in 2007 for his performance in The Band’s Visit, for which he also won a European Film Academy Award.
Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, a black comedy about women soldiers that has been compared to Robert Altman’s MASH, won the most Ophir Awards, six in all. Lavie won the Best Director and Best Screenplay Awards, and the film won awards for Best Music, Best Casting, Best Editing and Best Actress (Dana Ivgy). The film, which won the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last spring, is one of the only a handful of movies ever to put women soldiers front and center.
It was a huge critical and popular success here and many in the Israeli film industry felt it was the favorite to take home the top prize this year.
It was certainly a big night for Ivgy, Zero Motivation’s star.
In addition to winning the Best Actress Award for her performance as Zohar, a malcontented soldier, she won the Best Supporting Actress Awards for her performance as a developmentally disabled woman living with her sister in Asaf Korman’s Next to Her. Ivgy, the daughter of Moshe Ivgy, one of Israel’s most successful actors, previously won the Ophir Award for Best Actress in 2004 for Or.
The Best Actor Award went to Ze’ev Revach, one of the movie industry’s elder statesmen, for The Farewell Party, in which he plays a retired man who invents a machine that enables his dying friends to take their own lives. That film, which features a host of Israel’s most beloved veteran actors, won the Audience Award at the Venice Days section of the Venice International Film Festival last month and will be distributed internationally during the coming year.
Nadav Schirman’s The Green Prince, a documentary about the relationship between Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader who became an informant for Israel, and Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, his former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) handler, won the Best Documentary Award. The film also won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in the US last winter.
The Sound of Torture by Keren Shayo, about an Eritrean radio show host in Sweden who became the voice for many kidnapping victims, won Best Documentary Short.
An Achievement Award was given to actor Yehuda Barkan, who starred in many Israeli classics, among them Charlie and a Half and the Abba Ganuv series. Most recently, he has played the grandfather of a boy with autism in the acclaimed television series, Yellow Peppers.
A second achievement award was given to Eli Yarkoni, who worked as a sound mixer on dozens of Israeli and international movies.
The Ophir Awards was also an opportunity to pay tribute to those in the film community who died this year, among them internationally known producer Menahem Golan, actor/singer Arik Einstein, comedian Sefi Rivlin, film and stage actress Hanna Maron, writer/director Avraham Heffner and actor/director Assi Dayan.
As usual, there was some self congratulation on the part of the film community – the host, actor/comedian Moni Moshonov, and several presenters complimented the movie industry on releasing 36 features this year, winning prizes around the world, and drawing nearly a million local viewers to theaters.
There was also joy that women filmmakers were honored with so many awards.
The short list for the films in the running for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar will be released in December, and the final list of nominees will be announced January 15.