Cinefile: Jerusalem Film Festival Diary

Portman, who was dressed in a casual black dress and sandals, nevertheless brought a touch of glamour to the event.

natalie portman 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
natalie portman 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
Sitting on the lawn outside the Jerusalem Cinematheque are Natalie Portman, chatting with the Jerusalem Film Festival's founding director, Lia van Leer; British director Michael Winterbottom, winner of one of this year's Achievement Awards; and Dieter Kosslick, the director of the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival. This scene could only take place during the Jerusalem Film Festival, which, at presstime, has been running for four days and concludes on July 19. Portman, who was dressed in a casual black dress and sandals, nevertheless brought a touch of glamour to the event, as she discussed - of all things - pioneering fertility treatments that began after World War II and made use of the urine of post-menopausal Italian nuns (Portman mentioned that her father is a fertility doctor). When a member of the festival staff presented Portman with a totebag she said thank you, adding, "But I didn't do anything." Festival guests, much too cool to mob the actress, glanced in her direction and one could be heard whispering, "Just think - she worked with George Lucas three times" (in her role as Padme in the last three Star Wars films). Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and has spent a lot of time here in recent years, laughed when Kosslick (who could have a successful career in stand-up comedy if the festival thing doesn't work out) reminded her how cold it was at the last Berlin Film Festival, where her film The Other Boleyn Girl had its premiere. "Your friend there, she looked like she was in Hawaii on that red carpet!" he added. "Scarlett?" Portman asked. Kosslick invited her to the next Berlinale and promised that he would personally see to it that the weather would be warmer for her next red-carpet appearance. The opening night was festive as always, with six thousand people sitting beneath the stars at the Sultan's Pool to first enjoy a fireworks display and then a screening of the new and surprisingly thought-provoking Pixar film, WALL*E. The festival's new general director, Ilan de Vries, showed a photo of a pre-state Sultan's Pool and read a lovely poem by Yehuda Amichai about the spot. Lia van Leer's understated but very intense emotion as she received the Teddy Kollek Award for her contribution to the city made more of an impression than any of the speeches. Only two of the Israeli feature films nominated for the Wolgin Awards (a disappointingly small number, but not surprising when considering that the distributors of several Israeli movies, including Lost Islands, Love Life and Restless decided not to wait for the festival to open their films) have been screened so far. So it's hard to guess what will take home the prize in this highly competitive category. The movie Seven Days by Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz features almost every actor in Israel - including Elkabetz herself, Keren Mor, Yael Abecassis, Hana Azoulay-Safrari, Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award winner Hanna Laszlo, Moshe Ivgy, Alon Abutbul and Ruby Porat Shoval - has been raved about in France. It's a continuation of the family saga that the Elkabetz siblings filmed in To Take a Wife (2004). Ronit, sometimes known as the Cher of Israel because of her outrageous awards-show outfits, was relatively restrained (and incredibly beautiful) in a silver jacket and lacy black floor-length skirt. Although the movie drew mixed reactions from viewers, I think everyone seeing it would agree that Ronit Elkabetz is an amazing actress and a genuine star. Here's the test: No matter what else is going on in a scene, it's impossible to take your eyes off her. The other Wolgin Feature screened, Dror Zahavi's For My Father, was an interesting and ambitious look at a would-be suicide bomber who spends a weekend in Tel Aviv when his explosives belt malfunctions. The stunning star of the movie, Shredi Jabarin, who plays the bomber, came to the festival but left early to appear in a play. Hilli Yalon, making her feature-film debut in the film, wore a shimmering outfit and seemed suitably excited by appearing at her first premiere. Judging by her performance, it will be the first of many for her. For more information about the festival and for schedules of events and screenings visit