Israeli films win acclaim at Berlin film festival; Jerusalem Cinematheque runs Tim Burton marathon.

hannah brown 88 (photo credit: )
hannah brown 88
(photo credit: )
It's almost become commonplace for Israeli films to win awards at major film festivals, so it actually wasn't much of a surprise when three Israeli movies were awarded prizes at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival last week. Tomer Heymann's documentary, Paper Dolls, about a group of Filipino workers in Tel Aviv who have a drag nightclub act at night, won the Audience Award in the Panorama category. In the short film category, Talya Lavie's "Soldier Girl" (Hayelet Bodedet), was awarded the Audience Award. It tells the story of a young soldier who wants a transfer (Dana Ivgy, who won a Best Actress Ophir Award for her portrayal of a prostitute's daughter in "Or") and becomes distraught when her replacement turns out to be suicidal. Although the second film is set on a military base, neither film is political. Both focus on aspects of life in Israel that show Israelis (and the foreign workers who choose to live here) as human beings. It's clear that foreign audiences all over the world are willing to applaud Israeli movies, no matter how fashionable the new anti-Semitism becomes, as long as the movies are good. The feature film, Close to Home, directed by Vidi Bilu and Dalya Hagar, won the prize awarded by the International Association of Art Film Houses. Like "Soldier Girl," it is concerned with female soldiers, but unlike that film, it takes a close look at how the IDF in Jerusalem fights the threat of terror by focusing on a unit of young, female, extremely unenthusiastic recruits who are enlisted to monitor the movement of Arabs through the center of town. While it is not a stridently political film, it raises questions about security procedures and, by inference, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its portrayal of these unwilling soldiers who often spend time shopping, chatting on the phone and pursuing romance during the hours they are on duty will not make you feel any safer the next time you venture into downtown Jerusalem. These awards are a huge boost for the directors of these films. I met Talya Lavie briefly on the way to the awards ceremony at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer, where her movie was nominated in the short films category. Although today she is being feted in Europe, on that night she did not have the invitation or pass that would gain her admittance to the ceremony. I told the guard she was with me and he let her in. Presumably, next year she'll have an easier time getting past security. Close to Home will be opening soon in Israel, as will Appearances (L'Mareet Ayin), the title of which was previously translated as "Out of Sight." "Appearances" will have a premiere screening on Monday at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at 9:30 p.m. Daniel Sirkin was the surprise winner of the Best Director Ophir Award this year (most critics thought it would go to Eyal Halfon, the director of the film that won Best Picture, "What A Wonderful Place"). The movie concerns two childhood friends, one of whom is blind, and how she copes when the other commits suicide. The buzz is that it's very good, although I'm wary of another character whose blindness may be used for its symbolic value, as it was in the recent Year Zero. TIM BURTON FANS will be glad to learn that this week's marathon at the Jerusalem Cinematheque spotlights his work. The marathon kicks off tonight at 10 p.m. with Beetle Juice, the haunted-house parody movie many consider his best. The 1988 film stars Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton and a very young Winona Ryder. Next up is Burton's latest, Corpse Bride, an animated film made in Burton's creepy, trademark love-it or hate-it visual style. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Burton's real-life partner and the mother of his son) do the voices for a repressed Victorian young man and the deceased but lively woman he falls in love with, the night he is supposed to be married to someone else. The third film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), features a similarly dazzling blend of brilliant animation and slight story.