Ophir Awards end in a cliffhanger

'Aviva, My Love' collects more prizes than any other movie, but it's still unclear which film will be Israel's submission for a best foreign picture Oscar nomination.

ophir award 88 (photo credit: )
ophir award 88
(photo credit: )
The unthinkable happened Thursday night at the Israel Academy for Film's Ophir Awards ceremony in Tel Aviv: there was an actual surprise. Two films, Shemi Zarhin's Aviva, My Love and Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud, tied for best picture. The audience had already started filing out when the announcement was made, since there was every reason to think that Aviva, My Love would win Best Picture, but nearly everyone in attendance stopped in their tracks and returned to their seats as the tie was announced. Aviva, the story of a cook in Tiberias who dreams of being a writer, won five other awards - best director, best screenplay, best actress (Assi Levy), best supporting actress (Rotem Abuhav) and best editing. Sweet Mud, a coming-of-age story set on a kibbutz, won awards for art direction, score and soundtrack. A man in the audience called out, "Which movie will go to Hollywood?" since the winner of the Ophir for best picture automatically becomes Israel's selection to be considered for a nomination for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. The unprecedented best picture tie, it was announced, will be resolved by means of a runoff, and there were assurances that academy members would shortly receive ballots they'll need to quickly re-submit. The tie was a welcome end to a mostly routine evening, one that the evening's hosts, actor Moni Moshonov and comic Shlomo Bar-Abba, tried to enliven as best they could with their rapid-fire and often very funny patter. Moshonov ribbed Bar-Abba for not having seen any of the nominated movies - which drew half a million Israeli viewers this year, as opposed to a million two years ago and about five total in a very weak 2005 - while Bar-Abba prodded his Moshonov to reveal that he recently made a movie in New York with Robert Duvall about the Russian Mafia, budgeted at $20 million, We Own the Night. With the the heavily favored Aviva taking most of the awards, there were virtually no glitches or even fashion faux pas. The most entertaining outfit of the evening, as always, was worn by actress Ronit Elkabetz, who presented the best director award, but if not for her odd, black feathered hat, her very flattering white dress and black bodice would not have seemed at all out of the ordinary. Virtually the only clue that the ceremony was taking place in Israel, other than the fact that the proceedings were in Hebrew, were a few presenters and the technical award winner dressed in jeans and T-shirts. The women at the Ophirs were all lovely, about half wearing long gowns and the others in cocktail dresses. Many wore white or light colors, like best actress winner Levy, who wore a flowing, silver assymetrical gown and ran to embrace her mother before accepting the award. Abuhav, her co-star, was dressed in a form-fitting white gown, while best actress nominee Anat Klausner (Frozen Days) wore a long white gown as well. Hani Furstenberg, the best supporting actress winner in 2004, was one of several actresses who wore black - in her case in the form of a short fitted dress. Actress Ruby Porat Shoval was stunning in a sparkly, rose-colored gown as she presented an award. Tzachi Grad took best supporting actor honors for his role as a malevolent drug dealer in Someone to Run With, the only award of the night for that film. Although it was based on a novel by David Grossman, who recently lost a son in the war in Lebanon, no one referred to his loss, although a few passing references were made to the war itself. Dina Tzvi-Riklis' Three Mothers, the story of triplets born in Egypt who move to Israel, won awards for photography and costume design, with Miri Mesika, one of the film's stars, stopping the show during a performance of the movie's theme song. Shahar Cohen won the best documentary award for Souvenirs, a portrait of his father, who may have fathered a child with a Dutch woman during World War II. Cinematographer David Gurfinkel gave a touching tribute to the late Mike Brant, who worked on the technical crew of many films and was given a posthumous award for professional achievement. Director Nadav Levitan (Stalin's Children), won a lifetime achievement award presented by his wife, singer Chava Alberstein. The evening proceeded placidly until Assi Dayan won the best actor award for his role as the father in a dysfunctional family in Things Behind the Sun. The actor has had an exceptional year, starring in the films Comrade and Out of Sight and in smash-hit television series On the Couch, but he's also written and spoken publicly about his struggle with drug abuse. Reeling onstage to accept his award, he couldn't seem to find the microphone, then launched into a barely coherent monologue in which he chided previous winners for spending too much time thanking their families. "Just call them after the show," he said. When the Best Picture tie was announced, he stumbled back onto the stage with the directors and casts of the winning films, prompting someone to call out, "Assi, you don't belong there." But no one seemed too concerned as the actor mumbled and embraced Assi Levy. It was a sad moment in an evening that ended in suspense. In a few weeks, the winner of the runoff will be announced, although it would come as a surprise if either the bland Aviva My Love or the intense but bitter Sweet Mud ends up as the first Israeli movie nominated for an Oscar in 22 years. Still, directors Zarhin and Shaul both had reason to be proud on Thursday night.