Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
The best in recent Israeli cinema
The 2014 Israel Film Festival screens at Palace cinemas around mainland Australia throughout August. Presented by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) it showcases the best of recent Israeli cinema.
For me the clear highlight of the festival this year is Self Made. Director Shira Geffen's only other film, Jellyfish, won the Camera D'Or at Cannes and is one of my favourite MIFF films of recent years. Self Made continues the tone set by Jellyfish with its surreal/fantasy elements within a realist setting. It's a smart black comedy that tells the story of two women – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – who swap worlds. It manages a tricky balancing act of making you laugh while contemplating what it means to be a woman in Israel. Self Made is the opening night film, but screens at other times during the festival.
As you can imagine from a country so plagued with political tension, there is a wealth of material for filmmakers to draw upon. No wonder one third of the films on offer are documentaries. Among them are Shadow In Baghdad which follows the attempts of an Iraqi born Israeli based journalist to find her father who disappeared in Iraq in the early 1970s. Linda Abdul Aziz (now Linda Menuhin) escaped the upheaval of Iraq in the early 1970s to Israel. Her father remained in Baghdad and went missing shortly after. Witnessing Menuhin's pursuit for answers is like a history lesson in Iraqi politics over the past 50 years with a personal perspective. We get an insight into the thriving Jewish community that comprised a quarter of the population of Baghdad, the abrupt removal of their civil rights after the six day war in 1967, and especially the horror of the public hangings of Jewish prisoners in Tahrir Square. It's also part mystery detective story as Menuhin searches for clues to her father's fate.
Shadow In Baghdad
On a lighter note, In Between is like a bitter sweet Israeli home movie. It focusses on a young couple whose marriage is showing the strains of differing religious views. In the past two years Amit has suddenly become a born again Orthodox, while Dana remains independent and secular. It's a fascinating look at how the two work at reconciling their relationship and raising their kids. Dana strives to keep her individuality while Amit fights to stick to the strictures of his faith. Can love conquer all when Amit is being advised by his Rabbi to "beware a woman's tears"?
The closing night film is The Green Prince, which won the Audience Award for best World Cinema Documentary at Sundance earlier this year. It depicts an extraordinary story of two men, an Israeli secret service informant and his handler. Circumstances would dictate that they be sworn enemies, but unexpectedly they forge a trusting and loyal friendship.
While not exactly a part of the official line-up, the festival features special screenings of two new Hollywood films by Jewish directors. This is the tenuous link that sees a Woody Allen film at an Israeli Film Festival. Is it appropriate, you may ask? Or is any excuse a good one to see the latest from one of the great auteurs of contemporary American filmmaking? Allen's recent hot streak continues with the joyful little bauble Magic In The Moonlight. Let's face it, he does baubles so well. With a luminous cast that includes Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins and our own Jacki Weaver, it provides some levity, which isn't a bad thing among the topical, hard-hitting festival line-up.
Less of a stretch for its inclusion is the new Zach Braff directing/starring vehicle, Wish I Was Here. Fresh from MIFF, this actually has a pretty strong Jewish theme. Braff plays a struggling actor, who along with his two kids are supported by his working wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson). He's under considerable pressure from his ailing father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) to give his kids a good Jewish upbringing.
The full list of films and sessions times is available at the Festival's website. Prices are detailed below. As always, it pays to be a Palace member.
Cost:Single tickets $15 for Palace members, $20 for adults, $17 concession, 5 Film Pass $70 Palace members $80 non-members, 10 Film Pass $130 Palace members, $150 non-members, Opening Night $40 and $35, Closing Night $26 and $21