Mel Gibson's Apocalypto makes Passion of the Christ look like a church picnic.

Despite the Israeli movie renaissance, directors here still tend to spend longer than they (and their audiences) would like between films - except for Amos Gitai. Israel's best-known filmmaker and most celebrated director abroad, Gitai manages to make a film nearly every year. Following his success at Cannes in 2005 with Free Zone, which won that year's Best Actress award for Hanna Laslo, he will begin filming his latest feature, Disengagement/Gaza, which stars French actress Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) and Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi (Walk on Water). Gitai will film in Italy, Switzerland and Israel, starting in January. In spite of the war last summer, Paul Schrader's Adam Resurrected starring Jeff Goldblum, based on a surreal Holocaust-themed novel by Yoram Kaniuk, is still set to start filming in Israel this spring. Goldblum and Schrader visited Israel last summer at the start of the conflict and held a news conference at the Jerusalem Film Festival to announce that the film would be made here (with additional location shooting in Europe). In March 2007, Israeli moviegoers can look forward to the release of Beaufort, the latest film by director Joseph Cedar. Cedar has looked at radical religious West Bank settlers (in his 2000 film Time of Favor) and moderate would-be religious West Bank settlers (in the highly successful 2004 drama Campfire) but now turns his gaze to the IDF and Lebanon, where he served when he was in the army. Based on the novel by Ron Leshem, Beaufort tells the story of the last unit of Israelis to be evacuated from the Beaufort Castle and features an all-star cast, including Ohad Knoller (The Bubble, Yossi & Jagger), Alon Abutbul (Nina's Tragedies), Itay Tiran (Forgiveness), Oshri Cohen (Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi), and Itay Turgeman (Beitar Provence). TWO CONTROVERSIAL NEW MOVIES are arriving in Israel. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (which opened in wide release here yesterday) and Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Gibson, who is probably as known for his anti-Semitic tirade following a drunk driving arrest than for any movie he has ever made, may anger the ADL but knows how to please audiences. First, his ultra-violent The Passion of the Christ, made in Aramaic and Latin, earned over $370 million in the US alone (and more throughout the world). Apocalypto, a film set during the time of the Mayans and filmed in the Maya dialect, has made over $30 million since its release in early December. Many critics commented on the film's violence which, according to Lou Lumenick of the New York Post (in a review titled "Passion of the Slice") "made Passion of the Christ look like a church picnic." He also advised audiences, "Just make sure you haven't eaten beforehand." New York Times critic A.O. Scott agrees with Lumenick but notes: "The brutality in Apocalypto is so relentless and extreme that it sometimes moves beyond horror into a kind of grotesque comedy, but to dismiss it as excessive or gratuitous would be to underestimate Mr. Gibson's seriousness. And say what you will about him - about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews - he is a serious filmmaker." Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette has stirred a very different kind of debate than Apocalypto. The daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), she was dismissed as a lightweight after her lyrical first feature, The Virgin Suicides in 2000. Then, she picked up a Best Screenplay award for her second film, Lost in Translation (2003), which starred Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two Americans adrift in Tokyo. But Coppola's take on the doomed French queen was booed when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last spring. It stars Kirsten Dunst as a young, ditzy monarch who shops and parties to rock 'n' roll. Rick Groen of The Toronto Globe & Mail voiced the prevailing critical opinion: "Call it eye candy stuffed with real candy. Call it a modern period piece. Call it a costume drama that, oops, forgot the drama. Cat-call it if you smoke Gauloises and booed it at Cannes. Or maybe just hold your tongue, sit back for two hours, and watch because here's one thing about Marie Antoinette: It sure is easy to watch. And here's another: It's even easier to forget." But Coppola countered her critics, saying, "You're considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion, but I think you can be substantial and still be interested in frivolity."