The reel deal

Directors such as Eytan Fox are delighted that Israeli movies are a hit with US audiences.

April 5, 2015 20:49
3 minute read.

broadway. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Every month, more Israeli movies are winning critical acclaim and selling large numbers of tickets around the world, particularly in the US. While it used to be rare that an Israeli movie would open theatrically there, now virtually every movie that is shown in theaters here and in festivals abroad gets theatrical distribution in the US. Israeli movies are also frequently being released on streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon, and many others.

A recent case in point is Eytan Fox’s latest film, Cupcakes, which just opened in New York to rave reviews. Cupcakes, a musical comedy starring some of Israel’s most popular actors, among them Dana Ivgy, Yael Bar-Zohar and Lior Ashkenazi, tells the story of six friends in Tel Aviv who write a song that is picked to become Israel’s entry into a Eurovision-like song contest.

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It’s a much more light-hearted film than US audiences are used to seeing from Israel.

Fox is best known for dramas such as Walk on Water and Yossi & Jagger, which deal with serious subjects, including gay soldiers, the legacy of the Holocaust, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The most enthusiastic review for Cupcakes came from The New York Times, which read, in part: “The gaudy excesses of the annual Eurovision contest have inspired filmmakers before...but rarely have they been employed as sure-footedly as in Eytan Fox’s dramedy Cupcakes. This candy-coated confection is so irresistible that you’re captivated by its sentiment even as you acknowledge its manipulations...the elements coalesce into a thoughtful yet bubbly cocktail.”

Fox is delighted that his film has been so well received: “I am so happy about the wonderful welcome Cupcakes got from film critics in the US. People abroad are used to seeing only serious art house films from Israel so I wasn’t sure how they would react to an Israeli feelgood comedy. I am glad – especially at this time when Israel is in such a difficult place, and is criticized by people and governments all over the world – to come to the States with a film that is not about wars and occupation but about friendship, hope and good, old-fashioned pop music.”

Recently, the movie Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem, about a woman trying to get a divorce, directed by Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz, also received favorable reviews and is still playing in several New York theaters.

This winter, Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, a black comedy about women soldiers that won the Best Narrative Feature Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, opened in several US cities. The film, which sold over 600,000 tickets in Israel, also did a brisk business (by art-house movie standards) in the US, and not only on the east coast.

Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times called it “satiric, surreal, unexpected and at times wildly funny,” while Michael Sicinski of Nashville Scene deemed it “a comedic lark” and “highly original.”

Many other Israeli movies, among them Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker, and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir have had successful runs in the US over the past few years.

This is especially notable because it comes at a time when the US industry has lost business due to illegal downloads and other online options such as Facebook. Movies that are not obviously commercial have a harder time than ever getting US distribution, and movies with subtitles have it particularly tough. Most multiplex chains will not show movies with subtitles, and in some US cities, the multiplexes are the only movie theaters in town.

But, clearly, US audiences now look forward to Israeli movies, rather than regarding them as an occasional exotic treat

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