Cinefile: The talented Mister Minghella

Israeli films will have a strong presence again this year at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan, which will run from April 23 to May 4.

de niro 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
de niro 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli films will have a strong presence again this year at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan, which will run from April 23 to May 4. Israeli films have often been awarded major prizes here, including last year when David Vollach's My Father My Lord took top honors in the World Narrative Feature Competition. This year, Strangers, directed by Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor, will be in the feature competition. Strangers stars Lubna Azabal and Liron Levo as a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man who meet in Europe and fall for each other. In the short documentary competition, Mandatory Service, a film about the military, will compete. And in the student film competition, Israel will be represented by Willingly, a film about an Orthodox couple divorcing, and Roads, about the relationship between an Arab boy and an Israeli soldier. Expect one or more of these films to come home with prizes. Lemon Tree, Eran Riklis' latest film has just found a US distributor, IFC Films, a well-known company specializing in independent films. This movie stars Hiam Abbass as a Palestinian widow fighting for her rights in the Israeli legal system. It won the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival and will be released this month in France and throughout Europe. A date for the US release has not yet been set, but it will be shown in a number of states, so tell your friends to watch for it. The first German Film Festival in Israel opened last week with Liebesleben (Love Life), an adaptation of the novel by Israeli Zeruya Shalev, which was a huge bestseller in Germany. The movie, which is the directorial debut of actress Maria Schrader (who starred in Aimee and Jaguar), was filmed in Israel with an international cast including Israeli actress Neta Garty, American actors Tovah Feldshuh and Stephen Singer as her parents, and Croation/Serbian actor Rade Serbedzija in the pivotal role of the Garty character's lover. The entire film is acted in English and although there is some nice desert scenery, the movie is a disaster from start to finish. The dialogue is stilted and the unconvincing sado-masochistic relationship between Garty and Serbedzija will make you disgusted with her spinelessness and glad that no matter how bad your current relationship is, it's not as sick as the one depicted in the movie. Liebesleben will be opening here in a couple of months. The Talented Mr. Minghella: As the British film industry mourns the loss of one of its most distinguished directors, Anthony Minghella, who died suddenly at the age of 54 last month, I want to add my own reminiscence. Minghella, who won an Oscar for The English Patient and also made such movies as Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley, visited Israel in 2004 (not a year when this country was getting a huge number of visitors) to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival. He wasn't promoting a new film, but I suspect came out of personal regard for festival founder and director, Lia van Leer, and a wish to help out the festival during this troubled time. Much has been written by those who knew him well regarding his kindness and gentle touch when working with actors, and I can say that in 20 years of interviewing, he was one of the kindest, most charming and most unassuming people I've encountered. I kept having to remind myself that he wasn't some old college friend who liked to sit and talk movies, but an internationally celebrated director, known for his skill at adapting difficult literary works. When I admitted I hadn't read The English Patient until after I saw the movie and that I frequently read books after I saw the film adaptations, he said, "What's wrong with that? I do that, too." While most famous film professionals never mention anyone but themselves, he spoke glowingly of his family and their work. After the interview ended, he asked me questions about life in Israel until it was time for his next appointment, saying he was very interested in this country but didn't know much about it. His last film was a television adaptation of the Alexander McCall Smith bestseller The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, about a woman detective in Botswana.