From the Jerusalem Film Festival: Blue and white on the silver screen

Jpost film critic looks at the best and the worst of Israeli films on offer at Jerusalem Film Fest.

A SCENE from Matan Yair’s ‘Scaffolding.’ (photo credit: VERED ADIR)
A SCENE from Matan Yair’s ‘Scaffolding.’
(photo credit: VERED ADIR)
The most talked about category at the Jerusalem Film Festival, which ends today, has been the Haggiag Competition for Full Length Israeli Feature Films. Impressive films that premiered in this competition in the past include Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti’s Ajami, which went on to receive an Oscar nod; Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, which received the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival; and Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit, which won 46 awards around the world.
This year’s nominees are, as always, a mixed bag, in terms of both subject matter and quality. One of the highlights this year was Matan Yair’s Scaffolding, about a high-school student who is pressured to work in his father’s construction business but who finds himself inspired in a way he doesn’t understand by his eccentric literature teacher. This is not a feel-good TV movie about a wonderful teacher who transforms his students’ lives, nor is it a mindless feel-bad look at a working class kid who feels trapped. It’s a surprising and lyrical movie, and at any given point I didn’t know what was going to happen next, which is unusual. The acting is especially good, both by the professional actors in the cast and some gifted non-professional young people. An added bonus is that some of it is surprisingly funny. The movie is a co-production with Poland, which is an interesting development.
Eliran Elya’s Doubtful covers a similar storyline, but tells the story more from the teacher’s point of view. It’s too bad both of these movies, which feature excellent acting by non-professionals and plots that deal with issues of class and education in Israel, were in the festival the same year, and I hope both receive the attention they deserve.
Savi Gabizon is an established director, whose 2006 film Nina’s Tragedies helped make Ayelet Zurer a star.
His latest, Longing, which premiered at the festival, stars Shai Avivi who discovers he had a son he never knew, and Neta Riskin as the teacher his son loved obsessively.
Gabizon always works with wonderful actors, but the movie is flatter and more literal than a TV movie-of-theweek.
If you can imagine a Christian Israeli-Arab Woody Allen, then you will have some idea of what Shady Srour’s Holy Air is like. It’s a fresh and funny take on Christian Israeli-Arab life in Nazareth that should find an audience both here and around the world.
Ofir Raul Graizer’s The Cakemaker is a mournful and sweet drama about a young German who falls in love with an Israeli man abroad and comes to Israel to seek out his family. It’s a low-key, well acted film that features evocative scenes of a Jerusalem winter.
Evgenia Dodina gives a performance audiences raved about in Dana Goldberg and Efrat Mishori’s drama Death of a Poetess.
Dodina also starred in the most divisive film in the festival, Veronica Kedar’s Family. There were a number of walkouts at the screening I attended, and I would have been one of them if I hadn’t been planning to write about the film. The movie’s defenders contend that it is an over-the-top black comedy, an Israeli-style gothic tale about a young woman who murders some of her family and pushes the rest to commit suicide. I would have given you a spoiler alert here if I thought anyone reading this might actually see the film, but I don’t imagine it will get much of a release in theaters; it’s strictly a festival film.
The traumatic event that sends the heroine into this vengeful spiral is that the rent is raised on the studio where she works on her photography, and her mean-spirited father won’t give her any money. It’s hard to imagine a more bourgeois scenario, and it’s unpleasant watching it play out, but worse than that, it’s more boring than you could imagine a movie filled with violence could be. Years ago, the default Israeli movie was about a miserable family screaming at each other in a Tel Aviv apartment, and that was why no one went to these movies. Family is a return to an era that no one misses.
You can look for these films in theaters and at festivals around the world in the coming year.