Oscar and Ophir – nods and nabs

A roundup of prize worthy Israeli movies – looking backwards and forwards

The Human Resource Manager 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Human Resource Manager 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
2010 was a banner year for both high art and low comedy in the Israeli movie industry.
Israel got its third Oscar nomination in a row – for Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami – but ended up losing to the Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes.
But it’s a testament to the health of the movie industry here that this Oscar nod wasn’t the big story this year. That distinction belonged to a comedy called This Is Sodom (Zohi Sdome), starring and written by the same cast and crew that brings you Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country). Muli Segev and Adam Sanderson directed this broad look at the Sodom story, with God as a briefcase-carrying traveling salesman who makes a deal with Abraham to save his cousin Lot. With jokes about shatnes (the linen-wool blend forbidden in the Bible), it’s not likely to draw a lot of viewers abroad, but Israeli audiences indulged wildly in Sodom – it broke local box-office records. After a single month, the film had sold 450,000 tickets, a huge number in a country this size (and one where more than a million residents either don’t speak Hebrew as a first language or are too religious to go to the movies – or both).
While the spotlight at home was on Sodom, Israeli movies continued to win over foreign audiences abroad. Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where its star, stand-up comedian turned serious actor Adir Miller, was named one of the “Super 7: Fresh Faces Found at TIFF” by the Toronto Star newspaper. It’s an honor that Miller was singled out this way, since more than 300 films were shown at the festival.
It has been quite a year for Miller. His television show Ramzor (Stoplight) won an international Emmy and was purchased by Fox Television. The Matchmaker went on to win an award at the Chicago International Film Festival.
But although Miller received an Ophir Award (the Israeli Oscar) for Best Actor and his co-star, Maya Dagan, won a Best Actress Ophir, the film did not win the Best Picture prize, and Nesher wasn’t even nominated for Best Director.
The film that did win the Ophir Award, Eran Riklis’s The Human Resources Manager, based on the A.B. Yehoshua novel A Woman in Jerusalem, is a wellacted drama about the quest of a bakery executive to give a foreign worker killed in a suicide bombing a decent burial.
But in spite of its prestigious source material and performances by Gila Almagor and Mark Evanir (who can currently be seen as Jesse Eisenberg’s father in Holy Rollers), the movie doesn’t quite come together. The winner of the Ophir Award for Best Picture is automatically Israel’s official selection for Oscar consideration, but it’s unlikely that The Human Resources Manager will bring Israel its fourth consecutive Oscar nod.
If an Oscar does come Israel’s way this year, it will probably be in the Best Documentary category. Shlomi Eldar’s acclaimed documentary Precious Life, about his efforts to help a Palestinian child get medical attention in Israel, is on the short list for consideration for an Oscar nomination. The final nomination list will be announced on January 25.
Israeli films will play prominent roles in two upcoming international festivals. Yossi Madmony’s Restoration will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film stars Sasson Gabay and Sarah Adler in a story of a down-on-his luck furniture restorer who finds a rare Steinway piano.
In February Lipstikka, a film by Jonathan Sagall, will be in the main competition at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film is a psychological drama about two Palestinian women and stars Clara Khoury. It created controversy early this year when it was reported that the film’s promotional material compared the Israeli government to Nazis, but the director denied having approved that press release.
The full Berlin list has not yet been released, but there is speculation that Joseph Cedar’s latest film, Footnote, may premiere there. This story of the rivalry between a father and son in academia was filmed earlier this year in Jerusalem. Cedar won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director for Beaufort at Berlin in 2007.