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The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FILM ANNE JOSEPH

AN IS­RAELI mer­maid, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and a suc­cess­ful porn star all have some­thing in com­mon — they fea­tured on the sil­ver screen at the 35th Jerusalem Film Fes­ti­val which ended this week.

Thou­sands of cin­ema­go­ers at­tended the fes­ti­val’s open­ing night for a gala screen­ing of the world pre­miere of de­but Is­raeli fea­ture, The Un­ortho­dox held at a strik­ing out­door venue, Sul­tan’s Pool — an an­cient wa­ter basin lo­cated just be­yond the Old City walls.

The film, writ­ten and di­rected by Eli­ran Malka, best known for the award­win­ning Is­raeli TV se­ries, Shabab­nikim, is a comic drama based on the es­tab­lish­ment of Is­rael’s Sephardi po­lit­i­cal party, Shas. Set in the early 1980s, it stars Shuli Rand (Ush­pizin) as Yaakov Co­hen, a printer with no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence who cre­ates a Strictly Or­tho­dox, Sephardi group when his daugh­ter is ex­pelled from school for eth­nic rea­sons and he de­cides to fight back.

The 11-day fes­ti­val fea­tured 180 films from 60 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, of­fer­ing a rich and di­verse pro­gramme. Work­shops, in­dus­try events and the film fes­ti­val’s first of­fi­cial mo­bile cin­ema, JFF on the Go, also took screens out to nine Jerusalem neigh­bour­hoods.

The Is­raeli film in­dus­try may have se­ri­ous con­cerns about its fu­ture, due to the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Sport’s pro­posed re­stric­tions to its Film Law, which would re­sult in greater gov­ern­ment in­flu­ence over the type of films made in Is­rael, but, po­lit­i­cal is­sues aside, the Jerusalem Film Fes­ti­val was a golden op­por­tu­nity to see some of the best of con­tem­po­rary Is­raeli cin­ema.

The Hag­giag Award for Best Fea­ture Film and the Anat Pirchi Award for Best De­but Film were, un­usu­ally, di­vided equally be­tween two films: Red Cow (Tsivia Barkai-Ya­cov) and The Dive (Yona Rozenkier). Both films ad­dress the par­tic­u­lar­ism and com­plex­i­ties of Is­raeli so­ci­ety with ex­cep­tion­ally pow­er­ful per­for­mances by their re­spec­tive pro­tag­o­nists.

Red Cow cen­tres on 17-year-old Benni, an only child who lives with her fun­da­men­tal­ist fa­ther in a Jewish set­tle­ment in East Jerusalem. As her fa­ther be­comes more and more ob­sessed with a red heifer that he be­lieves will bring the re­demp­tion, Benni drifts fur­ther away and into the arms of Yael, a young new woman in her life.

In con­trast, themes of mas­culin­ity, com­mu­nity and con­flict are ex­plored in The Dive. Be­fore go­ing to war, three broth­ers re­unite for one week­end to bury their fa­ther in their na­tive kib­butz on the bor­der with Le­banon.

As war rages all around them, the two older broth­ers pre­pare the youngest for his first war. The de­serted kib­butz and its sur­round­ings be­come the broth­ers’ sur­real play­ground and the train­ing be­comes more vi­o­lent un­til fi­nally, af­ter a tragic turn of events, it spins out of con­trol.

The best Is­raeli doc­u­men­tary went to the Hey­mann broth­ers (Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? and Mr Gaga) for Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life. Jonathan Agassi is one of the one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful gay porn stars and the film is a rare and in­ti­mate look at the world of porn and es­cort­ing, as well as a unique mother-and-son re­la­tion­ship.

Other doc­u­men­taries of in­ter­est were King Bibi (Dan Shadur), which doc­u­ments the re­mark­able and con­tro­ver­sial rise to power of Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu; The Price of Ev­ery­thing, an ex­plo­ration into the rar­efied world of con­tem­po­rary art, and Black Honey, The Life and Po­etry of Avra­ham Sutskever (Uri Bar­bash) which tells the story of the great Yid­dish poet who saved manuscripts from the Nazis, sur­vived the Sec­ond World War due to Stalin’s spe­cial res­cue plane and tes­ti­fied in Yid­dish — the only per­son to do so — at the Nurem­berg Tri­als.

The pre­miere of the highly ac­com­plished, tightly scripted Is­raeli fea­ture Work­ing Woman by vet­eran film­maker, Michal Aviad, (Di­mona Twist, In­vis­i­ble) con­cluded with rap­tur­ous ap­plause. Its story about work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment car­ries par­tic­u­lar poignancy and rel­e­vance in light of the #MeToo move­ment.

The ru­mour of a mer­maid sight­ing brings un­ex­pected at­ten­tion to the gloomy town of Kiryat Yam in Is­raeli fea­ture, Vir­gins (Keren Ben Rafael). A re­bel­lious ado­les­cent, her mother and her dreamy cousin will do any­thing to grasp at the op­por­tu­nity and change their lives.

For­tu­nately, UK au­di­ences will get the op­por­tu­nity to watch some of these films at this year’s UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val, which runs Novem­ber 8-22 .

Things get out of hand in

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