Israeli cinema flourishes at home and abroad, keeping the State of the Jews on the map, no matter what our detractors say.
By HANNAH BROWN
The lineup for the Cannes Film Festival, which runs from May 13-24, arguably the most prestigious in the world, was just announced. As it has over the past few years, Israel has a strong presence. The lone Israeli entry in the Main Competition is The Time That Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman. It is likely to be at least as, if not more, controversial than Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir was last year.
In 2002, the Nazareth-born Suleiman won the Jury Prize at Cannes for Divine Intervention, a brilliantly made movie that starred the director as a nebbishy Israeli-Arab fantasizing about taking revenge on Israelis for humiliating him and keeping him apart from his girlfriend, who lives in the West Bank. A number of scenes stirred debate in Israel, such as one in which the hero (or anti-hero) tosses a peach pit out his car window and imagines it exploding and blowing up an Israeli tank.
The Time that Remains, which was filmed in Ramallah and Jerusalem, is a look at Israeli history from 1948 to the present. Judging from Suleiman's earlier work, it is unlikely to please Israelis on the right; but may well delight left-wing admirers of political cinema.
It stars Ali Suliman, an Israeli-Arab actor with an international career. He has appeared in locally made films, such as Paradise Now and Lemon Tree, and in the Hollywood productions Body of Lies and The Kingdom. Saleh Bakri (actor/director Muhammad Bakri's son), who made a strong impression as the Egyptian ladies' man in The Band's Visit, co-stars. Menashe Noy appears in the film, as well.
While Divine Intervention was listed from Palestine, The Time That Remains is an Israeli/French/Belgian and Italian co-production, which may or may not signal some kind of ideological shift for its director.
Still, there is stiff competition from the other 20 films in the main contest with a list of directors that reads like a Who's Who of the most famous international filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (his long-awaited World War II movie) premieres at Cannes, as do the latest films by Pedro Almodovar, Lars von Trier, French New Wave-veteran Alan Resnais, Ken Loach, Ang Lee (with Taking Woodstock, about the farmer who allowed his property to be used for the legendary music festival), Michael Haneke, Johnnie To and Jane Campion.
Jaffa by Keren Yedaya, another Israeli film, will be shown in a special out-of-competition screening. Yedaya was the surprise winner of the Camera d'Or Competition at Cannes in 2004 with her film, Or. Dana Ivgy and Ronit Elkabetz, the stars of Yedaya's previous movie, will appear along with Moni Moshonov in this drama about Israelis and Israeli Arabs.
Haim Tabakman, an Israeli film editor, makes his directorial debut with Eyes Wide Open, which will be shown in the Un Certain Regard competition. Starring Zohar Strauss, Ron Denker and Tinkerbell, its plot summary sounds like an Israeli version of Brokeback Mountain, set in an ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. It will be sure to stir strong reactions at home.
In the Directors' Fortnights competition, the closing film is Yaron Shani's and Scandar Copti's drama Ajami. Set in Jaffa, the film examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through different characters' viewpoints. Shani is Israeli and Copti is Palestinian.
In festival news closer to home, the Israeli film A Matter of Size will open the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 9. It is a rare honor for an Israeli film to be the opening attraction at this international event. Directed by Erez Tadmor and Sharon Maymon, this film is an offbeat comedy about an overweight chef (Itzhik Cohen) in Ramle who starts sumo wrestling with his pals.
A Matter of Size is currently in competition in the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, which ends on Sunday. Other Israeli films at Tribeca include Omri Givon's Seven Minutes in Heaven, about the aftermath of a terror attack on one young woman (which won the Feature Prize at the Haifa International Film Festival last fall) and Gefilte Fish, a short film by Shelly Kling-Yosef.
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