Local filmmakers keep fingers crossed

In a year in which Israeli films have won top prizes at festivals all over the world, will tonight's Ophir Award winner stand a chance of Oscar success?

Intimate Grammar 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Intimate Grammar 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is actually some real competition at this year’s Ophir Awards, the awards of the Israel Academy of Film and Television, aka the Israeli Oscars, which will be given at out at a ceremony at the Jerusalem Theater tonight, hosted by actor Aki Avni. The ceremony will be broadcast on Channel One at 9:30 p.m., and it’s the first time it will be broadcast in HD (High Definition). So you’ll really get a great look at all the sequins.
Everyone recognizes that the stakes are high this year, since the last three winners of the award were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscars. The winner of the Best Picture Award automatically becomes Israel’s official entry to be considered for one of the five Foreign Language film nominations. Approximately 65 countries submit films for consideration in this category each year, so the fact that Israel has made it to the final five for three years running is an amazing achievement. However, no country has received more than three consecutive nominations since 1980, which means it is unlikely (but not impossible) that Israel will be back in Hollywood again in 2011.
While there are often years in which one film dominates, this year there are three strong contenders for the award. The frontrunner is generally the film that scores the most nominations, and this year that’s Nir Bergman’s Intimate Grammar. Bergman’s last feature film, Broken Wings, won the Ophir in 2002, which shows that the Academy likes his work. Intimate Grammar, about a sensitive boy who stops growing, is based on a novel by David Grossman. It received nominations in all four acting categories, for Roi Allsberg and Orly Silbersatz in the leading roles, and Yehuda Almagor and Evelyn Kaplun in the supporting categories. Bergman is nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and the film is nominated in five other categories. The film is the favorite to win awards in all the categories in which it is nominated, except for Best Actor.
But it does face some real competition from two other films. One is Eran Riklis’ The Human Resources Manager, based on a novel by A. B. Yeshoshua. Riklis has directed several other acclaimed films, including Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride. The movie also received several other nominations, including for its leading actor (Mark Evanir) and supporting actors (Rozina Kambus and Guri Alfi). It tells the story of a Jerusalem bakery manager who goes to Russia to visit the family of an employee killed in a terror attack. The film recently won the Audience Award at the Locarno Film Festival and competed in the Toronto International Film Festival.
The third film with a chance of winning is Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker (formerly called Once I Was). A critical and popular success in Israel, it was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and received excellent reviews. But the Academy has made a habit of snubbing Nesher. His previous two films, Turn Left at the End of the World and The Secrets, were not even nominated for Best Picture, and this year Nesher did not receive nominations for Best Director or Best Screenplay. The grudge against Nesher could be due to the fact that he spent years as a successful Hollywood director. The only award The Matchmaker is likely to win is Best Actor for Adir Miller, who plays the title role of a matchmaker and Holocaust survivor.
The two other Best Picture nominees, The Flood and Revolution 101, will be the also-rans this year. The Flood is a film about two disabled teens, while Revolution 101 is a semi-documentary about reforms in Israeli television.
In any case, it will be interesting to see how the battle between the three critically acclaimed films plays out.