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Reviews

Kasach
(1984)

Of nostalgic value only
This is one of those musical dramas in which the new music beloved of the young and underprivileged goes up against the establishment music favored by the prosperous class. Like an old rock 'n' roll movie, except that this is Israel so it's Mideastern/Mediterranean music that's featured. Among a number of well-liked Israeli character actors, Ilan Dar appears as a broadcaster based on real-life interviewer Yaron London, who notoriously disparaged that music as it was gaining popularity. The fellow who bears the brunt of the interview is played by Hofni Cohen, who stars but is by means not the movie's only featured singer. Something of a musical pantheon from the period performs, including the legendary Zohar Argov. There appears to be a character based on Argov, as well-- someone too helplessly deep into drugs to perform much-- but not played by him. The real Argov performs a couple of numbers while seated at the bar of a fictitious club and has no function in the plot. As for the plot itself, there's not much to say. The movie even appears to have been shot without a satisfactory ending; the resolution, such as it is, occurs in a voice-over. You wouldn't want to watch this movie unless you enjoy that generation of singers-- Haim Cohen, Jacky Mekaiten, Daklon, Avihu Medina-- and enjoy seeing them in their youth.

Un profil pour deux
(2017)

Traditional French farce meets traditional French melancholy
Although the movie is exported with a title naming "Mr. Stein," I don't recall from the movie itself that his name is anything other than simply "Pierre" and he says that in his younger days he was sometimes called "Pierrot," a name straight out of the commedia del'arte. The raw materials of French farce, including a silly old man hanging on to a mismatch with a lovely young woman, are put to use here in a touching way rather than an uproarious way.

For us as an audience (okay, for me as an audience), this is very much old Pierre Richard's movie, and he carries it off superbly. Unfortunately, it wasn't written that way. The script gives as much weight, if not more, to his granddaughter's friend, an ineffectual fellow played by Yaniss Lespert. And while it's possible to look ineffectual and funny (and Pierre Richard could give a master class on that), Yaniss Lespert simply looks ineffectual. He's in an interesting situation, but he doesn't come across as an interesting person.

Still, the wheels of the plot turn smoothly, sometimes a little intricately. In one or two places, it's important to keep your eye on the screen because not everything is proclaimed in the dialogue. Strangely, for a movie written and directed by women, the female characters are a little undermotivated; but the atmosphere of the movie does embrace them and it's an atmosphere of mild loneliness and hope.

Golden Voices
(2019)

Doesn't feel as sad as it might sound
Looking back on it, I realize that this is a movie about endings. Ostensibly, it's about the difficulties of starting a new life in Israel as married immigrants from Russia, and we're rooting for the protagonists to make a go of it. But every start seems to wind up a false start. The jobs. The apartment. Meanwhile, their marriage is not in good shape. But there's also a lot of humor, particularly around the wife's job in the phone sex business, a 62-year-old pretending to be 22. The movie itself ends at what, objectively speaking, is a low point-- leaving the city and giving up on any prospect of rewarding employment-- but apparently we're supposed to be consoled that the marriage is doing a little better. It's a pretty flimsy straw to hang on to. However, up to that point the movie is carried along impressively by the acting of Vladimir Friedman, who looks like Israel's answer to Gerard Depardieu and is just as compelling, and by the glimmers of hope before they prove illusory. Mariya Belkina has less to do (or does less) as his wife, but she certainly holds up her end. The movie's release suffered from terrible timing (coronavirus) and the market for Israeli-made movies in Russian can't be that big to begin with, but I'm glad that I had the chance to see it and I recommend it to anyone else who has the chance.

Red Notice
(2021)

A live-action cartoon. What's wrong with that?
Red Notice plays like a cartoon. It's supposed to make some sense on its own terms but not by the standards of real life. Apparently, like Roger Rabbit and his fellow toons, the characters can't be killed by any amount of pummeling or plummeting and a moment later they'll be cracking jokes. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the disconnect from reality is deliberate and clear. Sadly, another disconnect is that apparently a stunt double is doing all the athletic work for Gal Gadot in the fight scenes. I hope it's just age and caution that's sidelined Gadot and not her accumulation of injuries.

Let It Be Morning
(2021)

I'm sure Eran Kolirin meant no harm, but...
On the basis of his three previous films, I've formed the opinion that Eran Kolerin is a good guy and certainly a good filmmaker. And I'd have given this film more than five stars except that it contains exaggerations that the international public could easily take seriously to the detriment of the State of Israel. For example, the film depicts an Arab village as being blockaded by the Israeli government to the point where food becomes scarce. I've lived in Israel for fifty years and I know that such a thing never happens, but the rest of the world doesn't know and unfortunately this is the movie that Israel is offering for nomination as Best International Feature Film.

As the joke goes, "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" Well, the movie is nicely paced and nicely acted, the characterizations resonate well, and-- behind the unfortunate exaggeration and the choice of a one-sided perspective-- the underlying issues are real.

Laila in Haifa
(2020)

A philosophically-minded web of characters
Like Amos Gitai's previous films "Ana Arabia" and "A Tramway in Jerusalem," this film also gives one character after another the chance to declaim a story or tell what's on their mind. This time the characters form quite a web of interrelationships and their speeches touch on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on the nature of life in general. In fact, this is the only film I've seen in which the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict is raised only to be overshadowed by grander issues. Not all the dialogue is exactly unpretentious and natural-sounding; and likely that was a priority lower than making philosophical statements-- and visual statements. Gitai knows architecture, and he seems delighted with the opportunity to film in a densely decorated bar that boasts a railed mezzanine and is flanked by railroad tracks.

Cahiers Noirs
(2021)

A fine item for fans
If you're a fan of Ronit Elkabetz and of her brother Shlomi, this is an enlightening look at Ronit and her family (and indirectly at Shlomi). Ronit was iconic in Israeli cinema, largely because of a trilogy of films based on her family-- and partly because of her commanding and provocative presence. If you don't know anything about Ronit, you may find much of the film uninteresting and/or hard to follow. Moreover, it's quite long and the publicity terms it merely Part One.

Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators
(2017)

Forget the other Curious George movie, watch this one
Some of the latter-day adaptations of Curious George (including the 2006 movie) haven't quite hit the mark but this biopic, saluting his creators Margaret and H. A. Rey, could hardly be improved on-- well, except maybe with some more work on the song at the end. The marriage of the Reys seems like what a marriage between Charlie Brown and Lucy would be like, if they both happened to be geniuses. Their story is repeatedly surprising, if only because the movie doesn't bother much with what happens between the surprises. I think that if you never picked up a Curious George book in your life, you'd still find these adventures well worth watching.

Hit and Run
(2021)

This sort of story depends on the denouement
In a way, this is the sort of story that Hitchcock did to perfection: A guy is living a quiet life and suddenly finds himself caught up in a mystery that it's up to him to figure out. Except that in Hitchcock the guy has no special training and his life is at stake. Here, the guy is an ex-commando and nobody really wants to bother him if he'd only stop assaulting everybody he suspects. Anyhow, the plot is driven by the question of what's behind the mystery. I'd have excused a lot if the answer in the season finale were more satisfactory, but unless I misunderstood, it had to do with secretly recording something that, if you stop to think, was too simple to require recording at all. Or maybe I did misunderstand, or maybe there's a more yet to come in the second season-- which, like most commenters here, I would suggest shooting under brighter bulbs.

Happy Times
(2019)

For an hour, not bad. Then it falls apart.
The first hour contains some reasonably telling satire about how thin the veneer of good will can be in society, but the moviemakers are determined to put a lot of ketchup on screen and the excuses for it become increasingly strained. At one point, apparently despairing of natural motivations, the script starts relying on a bottle of drugged water to turn some characters nasty.

Israeli viewers may recognize some well-liked actors-- Mike Burstyn, Guy Adler, Michael Aloni, Shani Atias... They've all worked in better projects than this. And by the way, in Israel the movie is rated for general admission with no age restrictions, but I wouldn't recommend taking a kid to see it. (PS - Okay, after a week the ads started saying "Ages 14 and up.")

Yareach BeBayit 12
(2015)

Mysterious without being intriguing
We're presented with a pair of sisters who have grown up to be a city mouse and a country mouse, estranged from one another. There is also their father, who is mute and almost immobile following a stroke. We look at his deeply lined face and can't help trying to guess what he is thinking. Unfortunately, we're less interested in guessing why the sisters are estranged and that's the crux of the movie. Part of the problem is that in establishing the contrast between the city girl, who is glamorous and a little trashy, and the country girl, who is neither, the moviemakers set up a lopsided contrast. When she's not with her father, the country girl has nothing very interesting about her. And neither of the girls appeals to us as particularly likeable. Maybe if you have a sister, or are somebody's sister, you can relate emotionally to the movie. I couldn't.

Honeymood
(2020)

A screwball comedy for the 21st century?
Here we have a rather quiet fellow who is fond of routine and he's drawn into a succession of comical adventures by an impulsive and emotional woman. The premise was already well worn in the 1980s ("Who's That Girl" etc.). What's new this time? Is the man learning to be a little more impulsive and the woman a little less? Is there character development? Maybe a smidgen, but the characters don't engage you the way they did in Talya Lavie's previous movie "Zero Motivation." This time the characters are more cartoonish, their attitudes change on a dime, and the comedy is screwier although here and there you can find some very well written lines and some food for thought. After a slightly bumpy beginning that is slow to set up any plot expectations, Lavie gets the film moving at a pace where if any episode seems to be falling flat, a new one replaces it quickly enough. As the mismatched couple, Ran Danker and Avigail Harari aren't exactly Tracy and Hepburn; but the movie is well worth watching.

Ha-Hesder
(2000)

One movie gives way to another
TIME OF FAVOR starts out as a love triangle and then switches into a thriller. It is interested in stylishly presenting both stories, so it winds up being a little long, and yet even then it's missing some setup near the beginning. The rabbi wants his daughter to marry the most brilliant of his students, but we never see even a perfunctory demonstration of that student's brilliance. The daughter falls in love with a different disciple of the rabbi's instead, but the script doesn't give them any particular reason to fall in love. It almost looks less like the real thing on the girl's part than like simple rebellion against her father... but it's supposed to be the real thing, or the plot doesn't have sufficient fuel. The thriller section proceeds well; the situations are sold to us by some of Israel's best character actors. All in all, the film was crafted well enough to kick off a writing/directing career (not an easy thing to do in Israel) that has been going strong for Joseph Cedar over more than twenty years now.

Oslo
(2021)

Oslo as Babette's Feast
It can't be emphasized enough that OSLO is a work of imagination, based on no special inside information at all. The dialogue is invented, and to some of us Israelis one or two of the characters are rather wildly different from their real-life versions.

But the worst inaccuracy comes in the quick summation and update at the end. Oslo "established a Palestinian state," the Norwegian protagonist congratulates herself. No, it didn't. The Oslo Accords don't mention a Palestinian state. And jumping ahead, the on-screen history says that the sides met at Camp David in 2000 "to create a Palestinian state" but adjourned without agreement. No, that was not a stated goal of the Camp David negotations.

Were the Arab negotiators at Oslo really mellowed by the food, as if this were Babette's Feast? And partial to the whiskey, in defiance of Islamic practice? I"m a little doubtful.

The Arabs are stereotyped as belligerent and childish. It's been noted that the Israelis outnumber the Arabs in the negotiations, and it may be because the playwright had trouble writing the Arabs' parts. On the Israeli side, there's an unkempt professor who seems to have stepped out of an old Disney movie-- with a loose necktie, just in case you didn't notice the unruly white hair. But the Israeli cast was cherry-picked from among the country's best-liked actors (and that includes Salim Daw, the main Arab actor in the movie) and if they noticed that the script was static and cliche-ridden, they don't show it.

Bortført
(2021)

Sometimes surprising, sometimes confusing
The episodes are short, and the showrunners try to be sure there's a surprise in each of them. Sometimes indeed the plot departs from conventional expectations. Underlying it all, and connected a little artificially to the action-and-adventure story, is the story of an almost stereotypical Scandinavian marriage-- undemonstrative, troubled, somewhat hopeless. I can't judge the Norwegian actors, but they seem at home in their roles, unlike Israeli sweetheart Rotem Abuhab, who has a less prominent role as a spouse and seems unable to find a character in it.

I can't pretend that I understood every plot development; there are factions against factions against factions. But matters keep moving, even if sometimes they seem to move in circles.

As an Israeli, I'm happy to see this kind of collaboration come about. I wish I could recommend it more enthusiastically.

Ha-Dybbuk B'sde Hatapuchim Hakdoshim
(1997)

Can't blame them for trying
The Dybbuk is the number-one classic of Jewish theater. It's a tragedy in which a solemn betrothal of children is ignored and when the children are grown the force of the injustice drives the boy beyond the grave and back in order to possess the body of his intended bride. You can't blame a moviemaker for being possessed by the story and wanting to film a modern version. But this film hasn't solved the problem of modernization. For one thing, it takes place almost entirely in gloomy indoor settings with little to remind us of the modernity except an intrusively 20th-century soundtrack and some references to backpacking in India. They break the aura of ancientness without substituting anything of value. For another thing, the movie can't resist the temptation to try to equitably balance its Romeo and Juliet rather than concentrating on the story of the male lead; but the original play doesn't offer much to the female lead before her big exorcism scene, and again the movie has nothing of value to offer to justify the departure from the original (unless it's the actress's breasts). When the exorcism scene finally does come, Ayelet Zurer-- a fine actress-- has her performance turned into a montage of quick cuts that don't build into much.

Like Ayelet Zurer, the other actors are among Israel's best and they seem to take their roles in this classic very seriously, subordinating themselves smoothly to the story. An exception is Moshe Ivgy, who is cast too old and doesn't seem to know exactly what to do about it. His character, the aged rabbi, also has the disadvantage of being flanked by an assistant borrowed straight from an old Frankenstein movie.

In the Israeli theaters, I believe this movie had no legs at all. Oddly, though, the song that accompanies the closing credits turned into a staple of popular Israeli music, far better known than the film it came from.

Ahavata Ha'ahronah Shel Laura Adler
(1990)

Missing the fire in the nucleus
I don't recall whether I saw this movie when it came out thirty years ago. if I did, it bored me. But I watched it just now because its reputation has lasted or even grown. I also watched another movie of Avraham Heffner's twice-- "But Where is Daniel Wax?"-- because it was held in such high regard and I felt I might have missed something the first time.

I'm American-born, and in the case of "Daniel Wax," the first time I couldn't get past my irritation at the plot element that portrays an Israeli singer having come to America and become a big success as if the Americans were so easy to impress. Oddly, much the same element is present in "Laura Adler": An American movie producer is struck by the talent of an Israeli actress and is eager to cast her even though she's performing in Yiddish and the producer can't understand a word. Worse yet, whereas in "Daniel Wax" we do get to see the singer do his stuff, and he's not bad, in "Laura Adler" the actress is seen in a mediocre play that doesn't exactly give her the chance to shine.

Everyone buzzes around Laura Adler like moths around a flame, but what's missing is the flame in the center of the central character. We don't get the impression of a grande dame of the Yiddish theater. The Yiddish theater itself, on the other hand, is (as far as I can tell) portrayed believably and affectionately, and it's a fairly big part of the movie. The plot works well once it gets going, although I had problems at the beginning figuring out who is who-- maybe partly because time has not been kind to the print. A curtain of shadow covered a lot.

If the craze for remakes ever hits Israel, I'd be pleased to see a remake of "Laura Adler" with Laura's talent, which has to be believed in order to drive the story, emphasized more credibly.

Criminal
(2016)

Arbitrariness is the big problem
In this tale of a sort of virtual memory transplant from brain to brain, the main character steps into a situation that's a little more complicated than we're accustomed to. It's the good guys versus the bad guys but with a renegade bad guy in addition who's just as dangerous as anyone else. I'm not sure why that complication was necessary, but it's not the picture's big problem. The big problem is that the scriptwriters have decided the memory transplant is kind of imperfect, maybe even kind of temporary, and they manipulate the degree of its effectiveness in order to help drive the plot. Since there's no such thing as a brain-to-brain memory transplant, there's no way to disguise the ups and downs of the result as anything realistic rather than arbitrary manipulation of the plot and thus of the audience. As others have said, though, the film is watchable thanks to its other qualities.

Moments de la vie d'une femme
(1979)

Nuvelle vague, and a little Israeli nostalgia
This is Michal Bat-Adam's first movie as a writer-director. It's forty years old at this writing, and some of the scenes are by now unintentionally nostalgic for those of us who remember Israel from back then. Other scenes are intentionally picturesque, filmed in Jerusalem. The plot is somewhat minimalist and the scenes have a casual nouvelle-vague aesthetic of ostensibly throwaway naturalism that can be charming but can also verge on pretentiousness. If I understand correctly, it's about a woman who has trouble committing herself to making a choice and following through on it. Maybe trouble growing up. Bat-Adam (also starring) plays a writer who is trying to make progress on her book. Nothing, really, for the audience to care much about as such (for whatever unstated reason, she has zero financial worries) except that she comes to the screen with one of the most photogenic faces that the camera ever saw. She meets a tourist who functions as a sort of straight man for her self-revelations, but the tourist is a woman and the dynamic between them quickly implies she may not be entirely straight. The title "Moments" rather prefigures the rest of Bat-Adam's work as a filmmaker; her movies do tend each to be a collection of intriguing moments rather than a gripping continuous story with strong momentum. This one attracted more than a little attention and set her career rolling.

Youth
(2013)

Doesn't take off
"Youth" begins well and ends well. The filmmakers had the smart idea that a caper movie doesn't necessarily need to include a whole section about the planning of the caper. Why not just let the audience find out about it as it happens? Cool. In this case, a couple of brothers carry out a kidnapping, and they're played by real brothers. Also cool, except-- this may be a strange complaint-- they look a little too much alike. It helps that one of them is often in military uniform, but still we don't get as much of a sense of their separate personalities as the filmmakers wanted. And the sense of any arc that they and their victim go through is also too faint. Their difference in class could also have been better portrayed as an element of the dynamic. (As is, it revolves almost entirely around the quality of her mobile phone.) But the script regains its elegance at the end with a worthy twist and a touch of unfinished business.

Ha'har
(2015)

More than anything else, lovely to look at
The story here is kind of slight, and worst of all it's possible-- particularly on the small screen and in the absence of an explanatory subtitle-- to miss an important incident in the final minutes. But it's a wonderful movie to watch for the play of geometry and for the colors (although at least in the print I saw, several times it seemed as if a strong light off screen was turning on or off). One reviewer mentions the movie's "frankness about its protagonist's un-Hollywood body" as if many people would see it as a minus, but the light and shadow on the musculature of her naked back in one scene make for a marvelous dynamic element in the frame's strongly vertical composition.

If the movie had any kind of commercial release in Israel at all, I guess it didn't last more than a week or two. I saw "The Mountain" in a special web-based showing sponsored by a cinematheque that was closed on account of the coronavirus. The lead actress, Shani Klein, is very well liked in Israel and for me she certainly helped to carry the picture, but it's certainly not a natural crowd-pleaser in terms of laughs or thrills or suspense.

Love Trilogy: Reborn
(2019)

Total immersion
Yaron Shani was co-director of Ajami, a film that combined a number of mostly related stories and that used nonprofessional actors. This time, it's not merely one movie with related stories but three related movies which by Shani's count contain a total of six stories. Surprisingly, he says you should not watch all three movies in a binge. They're somewhat taxing and he knows it. They're supposed to be. Shani says that when people aren't sufficiently taxed, they sink into depression; and he suspects that depression will be the next great plague in society.

So the movies depict difficult situations, and the nonprofessional actors knock themselves out improvising their way through. No word-for-word scripting, no repeat takes. And "Reborn" earned a shared best-actress award for its three lead players. How does Shani manage to elicit such performances? He immerses the actors in the roles for a long time before filming, and he claims that with such immersion "anyone can do it." After all, everyone can become emotionally invested in sports, and that's just as artificial. And everyone behaves differently in different situations.

From among the three films, this is the second one I caught. I caught it at a screening that was followed by a talk with Shani (and that's where I'm quoting him from). I think the first I saw, "Chained," was simpler. It more obviously had a main story developing in a clear direction. In "Reborn," if you're looking for a central protagonist to identify with and a central problem the protagonist is addressing, there may be a bit of frustration. We do see the central characters from "Chained" reappearing, and-- having seen that film and being, maybe, less than the ideal audience-- I found my interest disproportionately drawn to them. I also felt a touch of inconsistency between the presentation of the male lead of "Chained" there and in "Reborn." Maybe it's intentional; a question of point of view. Or maybe it's merely that, as Shani said, people don't always behave the same.

I think it was George Obadiah, a director of sentimental movies, who said "While I'm filming a scene, I'm crying. When I cry, the actors cry. When the actors cry, the audience cries. When the audience cries, the box office smiles." In the case of Love Trilogy, when the actors are totally immersed in the movie, the audience is totally immersed in the movie. What it means for the box office, I'm not sure, but it's impossible not to hope Shani and his trilogy achieve great success with their accomplishment.

The Day After I'm Gone
(2019)

A sort of self-defeating beauty
Nimrod Eldar is credited as this movie's writer, director, sound designer, and editor. All four of them are very talented, but I wouldn't say they work perfectly together.

Eldar's script is a tense, naturalistic, well-acted family drama focused on a widower and his daughter. The father is a zoo veterinarian, and the first line of the movie is spoken by the unmistakable Yigal Horowitz, a real veterinarian who is famous for treating wild animals in a program in Israeli educational TV. His presence seems like a wink at the audience and generates an expectation of light-heartedness that the script certainly doesn't fulfill. Similarly, the man-mountain Eran Naim, playing a policeman, is sort of a distracting cross-over from the films of Yaron Shani, where he's repeatedly played essentially the same role.

The patient at the zoo is a beautiful leopard. Eldar the director also makes a point of presenting a beautiiful amusement-park ride and some beautiful shots of the Dead Sea area. There are even some facial close-ups that are notable for their artistry. But instead of reinforcing the drama or providing welcome relief from the tension, these visuals call attention to themselves at the expense of audience involvement. The same might be said for some of the long pauses that Eldar the editor has inserted, while Eldar the sound designer has wisely eschewed background music almost entirely but occasionally overdone the sound effects.

I certainly recommend the movie, but overall, it could be that Eldar the director didn't sufficiently trust Eldar the screenwriter and tried to load more ornamentation onto the script than it would bear. It certainly is a bleak story, most of the time, but a director's got to play the hand he's been dealt, even if the game is solitaire.

Malkot
(2018)

Good characters. Plot has its faults.
Lead actress Rita, better known as a singer, has always been presented as larger than life, and some people considered that because she set the tone for this series, the whole thing was over the top. I liked it, though. A large cast of characters, well differentiated, and the audience is made to care for the fate of many of them. Some of the script is improbable, but for the most part I'd say the actors were able to sell it. There were strong motivations that the audience can empathize with, and underlying the whole story is a sad recurring question of what happens when men cannot fulfill their traditional role because they have been pushed aside or because, hard as they try, they can't figure out how to make it work.

Anat Elimelech: HaYalda Hachi Yafa BeYerushalaim
(2020)

Just not enough content
The violently possessive and jealous man and the abused but dependent woman are a fact of life and have been explored before. In fact, it seems only yesterday that Roy Miller, who plays the possessive man here, was playing the same role in the Israeli TV series Malkot. This time it's a true story, and it includes a murder that was a big deal at the time, so there's a certain audience that can be counted on to watch. The woman in the affair was a model and TV star, the script makes much of her beauty and magnetism, and it would be inaccurate to remark that the actress playing her doesn't project beauty and magnetism, but we're used to those qualities, TV being what it is, and I can't say that by TV standards this movie managed to make the actress playing her look special. Nor do we get much insight into the character's personality. These relationships end badly, and we see the set-up and the unfolding and the conclusion, but the movie doesn't contain any content that gives us a sense of learning.

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