As several major film festivals announce their lineups, it's clear that Israeli films will continue to be an important presence on the festival circuit. At Toronto, there will be no fewer than four Israeli features showing. I've never thought to keep track of this before (in the past, there would sometimes be one Israeli movie at a large festival), but this has to be unprecedented.
One of these films, Amos Gitai's DÃ©sengagement, has not yet been shown here. This continues Gitai's pattern of premiering his films abroad, where they generally are well received (as opposed to in Israel, where they get mixed reviews at best). The film stars Juliette Binoche as an Israeli-born woman living in France who comes to Israel to see her estranged step-brother (Liron Levo) and search for the child she gave up for adoption. Naturally, given that title, it takes place during the disengagement from Gaza in the summer of 2005.
Toronto filmgoers will also get a look at Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit, which won the Wolgin Award for Best Feature Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival earlier this summer. It will be opening here in early September and already won a jury award at Cannes. The other two films are playing right now in theaters throughout Israel: Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's Jellyfish (which won the Camera d'Or Prize at Cannes), and Avi Nesher's The Secrets.
At press time, the full Toronto list had not yet been announced, so it's possible that some other Israeli films will be in the festival, most likely in the Documentary and Short films categories.
NOW FOR THE bad news: The New York Film Festival just announced its lineup and there will be no Israeli films this year. Although this is a very prestigious festival, it's also very small, and most years, no Israeli film is included. But this serious showcase would have been a nice venue for a number of Israeli films this year.
The Venice International Film Festival, which has occasionally had Israeli films in the past, has also revealed most of its lineup and there were no Israeli titles included.
Well, you win some and you lose some.
WAITRESS, the engaging comedy-drama directed by the late actress Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered just after editing it, will be opening in Israel on September 6. The film deserves to be seen, and not because of the tragic circumstances of the director's death. It's nice and all too rare that a low-budget movie without name stars will be opening in theaters throughout Israel. (Keri Russell, who plays the lead, may have her fans from the Felicity TV series, but she's not a movie star.) Apart from the Cinematheques, the few small theaters that show non-Hollywood fare tend to show a lot of movies from Europe, Asia and Latin America, and the indie American films sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
THERE ARE BAD reviews, and then there are reviews that are more like State Department Advisories to steer clear of a certain film. Those are the kinds of reviews that The Invasion has been getting. But what's unusual is that The Invasion is A-list all around. It stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel (the new James Bond) Craig, and was the first Hollywood effort directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the German director of the critically praised and hugely successful Downfall, the dramatization of Hitler's last days. There were rumors that he might actually ask to have his name taken off this film, the fourth version of the 1956 sci-fi horror classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
You have to wonder about the wisdom of remaking a classic for the third time. The original film was an indictment of Fifties conformity. The first remake, the 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy and directed by Philip Kaufman, was excellent, a look at urban alienation, trendiness and pod people in San Francisco. Next came Abel Ferrara's lame but watchable 1993 Body Snatchers, in which the outer-space aliens started snatching people on a remote army base, a thinly veiled but skin-deep commentary on militarism. Here's what Lou Lumenick of the New York Post had to say about The Invasion: "The only thing that's frightening this time around is the sheer, across-the-board incompetence of the filmmakers and the hugely narcissistic performance of its leading lady."
It's especially telling that the film came out in mid-August, the traditional time studios dump what they feel are the weakest releases of the entire year.