Archive for August, 2011

Only now I got to see ‘A Matter of Size’ or ‘Big Story’ (Sipur Gadol) as the original title in Hebrew goes, a film that surprised both the international and Israeli audiences a couple of years ago. International audiences were surprised as they seem to be any time a film from Israel deals with subjects that are not related to the Israeli-Arab conflict, to war or terrorism or their consequences. There was also however a surprise in this film for the Israeli audiences as well. Those who came to see the routine comedy that this film promised to be taken into account the background where it happens and the actors, were surprised to watch more delicate subjects of personal identity and courage of assuming it being dealt with in a light and spirited manner. The result is not bad, and the mild success that the film enjoyed was in my opinion deserved.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1258123/

 

The heroes of the film all come from the lower class environment of a city which can be described as central in location and peripheral as social status in today’s Israel. Herzl (acted by big-eyed Itzik Cohen), his girl-friend Zehava (Irit Kaplan) and his friends all fight an oversize problem, which places them into the class of pariahs in a world obsessed by diets, as their weight places them out of the criteria of aesthetics and social acceptance. To some extent overweight is in the film directed by Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor a symbol for all the other inequities of gender, origin or social nature that make people different (which is a normal thing) but can also lead to discrimination (which must be fought). The fight is however not so much with the outer world but merely with the inner personality of the heroes. The physical disadvantage is turned into an opportunity when Herzl and his friends discover that the traditional Japanese sport of sumo can earn them respectability, but as they soon learn sumo is not only about being fat, it is also about proving strength of character and endurance in face of adversity. The tools of personal success or even survival are the same in any context.

 

(video source israelfilms)

 

The film does not take itself too much in serious, and this is both a quality – as it stays pleasant to watch and can be enjoyed by practically any audience – but also a weak point, as it cannot avoid some of the expected clichees of the feel-good movies.Taking upon the sport of sumo in a country that is the opposite of Japan from so many points of view is a comedy subject by itself, and there are a few spectacular moments of comedy with the big fat men running in their red sumo panties in the city or on the roads but the authors were so proud of them that they repeated them three times. Besides the lead roles, Dvir Benedek gives a good performance and so does Togo Igawa as sumo master Kitano (a homage name?) who comes to Israel … for Zionist reasons. It’s overall a movie that is nice to watch for everybody and with enough substance to make even the more sophisticated viewer unable to be sorry for the time spent watching it.

 

 

Amazing how many times can Hollywood try to squeeze the idea that triggered in 1968 the ‘Planet of the Apes’ series. The original film starred Charlton Heston and led to four sequels in the few years after its original release. A remake by Tim Burton with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role was made one decade ago. And now we have ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ which takes the theme into the techno-thriller space, but which in my humble opinion while technically sophisticated lacks much of the quality and ideas on which the original films were based.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/

 

The evil human origins of the world dominated by apes were the nuclear apocalypse in the original film. The new evil role is nowadays taken by genetics research and medical corporations. Experiments on apes for a drug that can heal the Alzheimer disease go wrong and one smart ape triggers a revolution. The family-adopts-ape plot is extremely simplistic and not much complex then in scores of films and TV shows we have seen in the last few decades. Even so the film which is directed by Rupert Wyatt feels much longer than its 105 minutes.

 

(video source movieclips)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ is certainly technically amazing. The imaging technique used already in such films as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series or in ‘Avatar’ allows human actors to dress into fantastic shapes while keeping expressiveness and emotions.  Here this technique is brilliantly used to create the main chimpanzee character (Caesar) and the crowd of apes, each gaining individual traits. Unfortunately the more sophisticated the technique and the virtual characters the less expressive are the human ones. There is not too much talent to be wasted in the characters of the scientist played by James Franco or his girlfriend played by Freida Pinto, and the best human performance is given by John Lithgow as the Alzheimer disease-stricken father.

It is said that ‘Rise of the Planet of Apes‘ is the smartest entertaining film of the summer. I can only imagine how bad must be the other. You can certainly lie back in the chair, and enjoy the popcorn and the apes. Not much more. The scariest thing is that the signs are that this film is the first in a new series.

‘Amelie’ is one of my preferred movies of all times. It brought to my attention the fabulous actress who is Audrey Tautou and also director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. To a large extent ‘Un long dimanche de fiancailles’ plays on the same strings as ‘Amelie’ with Tautou carrying the burden of a complex feminine character which combines fragility and tenacity, and whose big eyes and timid smile dominate any frame she is in and radiate the openness and goodness of a kind but determinate person. At the same time the story based on a novel by Sebastien Japrisot also places the movie in a very select company of great anti-war films inspired by the first world war. Kubrick‘s ‘Paths of Glory’ and Losey‘s ‘King & Country’ are the two that come first to my mind. No wonder they were made in the 50s and 60s, as something in Jeunet’s style of telling the story and catching in poignant frames the horror of the trenches and the nightmare that war imposes on their heroes reminds the style of filming of the classical movies made half a century ago.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0344510/

 

Yet, ‘Un long dimanche de fiancailles‘ is also a very different kind of film. This is due to Tautou’s magnetism whose innocence and trust in love and goodness carries away the whole action and crosses the screen right into the hearts of the viewers. This is also because it is before and more than everything a love story. Last this is also due to the sophisticated story building of Japrisot, which brings back from forgiveness the fate of five soldiers who should have all died a non-honorable death in the cross-fires of the French and German front lines, punished for having let their basic human survival instinct prevail over the laws of the patriotic killing in war. As the investigation that Tautou’s Mathilde is running about the fate of her fiancee disappeared in the war progresses we are more and more immersed into the horror of the war and we start to live the fears and hopes of the human beings caught in the middle. Cinematography plays with a number of beautiful techniques and tricks which sometimes create memorable frames. Superb acting accompanies Tautou’s – Ticky Holgado in one of his last roles as detective Pire, Jerome Kircher as Bastoche, and Jodie Foster, guest starring as Elodie are among the best.

 

(video source jolty712)

 

In a recent interview Audrey Tautou spoke about quitting acting. This would be a terrible loss for the French cinema and cinema at large. Tautou merges in her eyes and smile the fragility and delicacy of the other Audrey, Hepburn and the inner light of Ingrid Bergman. She is one of the few actresses nowadays who can put life in any role she plays. Please, Audrey, change your mind!

 

The opening scene of ‘Animal Kingdom‘ is awesome. A young man just on the eve of maturity and an older woman watch a brainless TV competition show. She seems to have fallen asleep on the sofa. Next paramedics from the emergency service enter. We understand the two are mother and son, and the mother fainted after injecting heroin. The paramedics try to resuscitate her. She actually was dead. The son continues to watch TV without any apparent emotion during all the scene, the eyes stuck to the empty content of the TV show.

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1313092/

 

The scene is symbolic for the empty social and cultural world where the characters of the film move. We may be in the Melbourne of the first years of the 2000s but the story of the family could have taken place in any other time and place, and there are no cultural or moral drives in what the family of gangsters in the center of the story do, there is only the instinct that brings the family together in some kind of spirit of heard of predators, there is greed and there is revenge. In fact the film resembles and is visibly inspired by the Hollywood crime stories and we could easily imagine DeNiro or Pacino taking in the 70s many of the roles. The structure of the crime family is the same as in the traditional Sicilian mafia, with just one twist – the godfather figure is being taken here by the mother of the three bank robbers, but then we already had seen a similar role in Katheen Turner’s Serial Mom which I bet the excellent Jacki Weaver had seen at least once. The rebellious sibyl is the mother who died in the opening scene and it is the fate of the son who is at stake in this film – will he go straight or will he end by being part of the family implacable destiny?

 

(video source SonyPicturesClassics)

 

The opening scene also is one of the many god moments in a film that never lets you guess it is director’s David Michôd first feature film. To be true however to the end I need to say that the pace is sometimes slow and there are also some moments that let the viewers confused, and not only because of the accent the folks down under speak their variant of English which of course does not help. Overall it is however an entertaining story with a few surprises and turns that keep the attention of viewers, with an atmosphere of authenticity, and no moral judgments – cops do not show up in a much better light than criminals, with a group of rogue policemen taking the law in their hands and playing according to the gang rules the war with crime. The ending is one of the possible endings such movies may have and did not let me unsatisfied. Acting is good and as I know too little about Australian cinema I had the advantage of all actor faces being new to me. Besides Weaver that I already mentioned, I liked James Frecheville who does a fine job in his first lead role and Ben Mendelsohn (an experienced actor according to his IMDB record). Animal Kingdom is not a masterpiece, but is a smartly written and well acted film and I am not surprised that it caught the attention of the jury at the Sundance festival and that is enjoys a fair international success.

The story written by Erez Kav-El for ‘Good Morning Mr. Fidelman’ (translated in English by ‘Restoration’ at the request of the organizers of the Sundance festival) smarty gathers together in the micro-cosmos of the movie many pieces of the puzzle which is the Israeli society today. A society composed or religious people and of non-believers, of Jews coming from European and Middle-Eastern backgrounds, of tradition and modernity, of rich and poor, of locals and strangers. One of the key characters of the film is Anton, and many things remain unknown about his character. He comes from nowhere in the Southern part of Tel Aviv, the humble and vanishing neighborhood located in the shade of the high, modern and expending part of the young city and he will disappear to nowhere at the end of the film. We know little about his identity before and nothing about what will happen to him after, his past seems to be a dangerous mix of art and crime, he is the prototype of the stranger with no roots whose secrets are well hidden and whose identity gets meaning only when reflected into the souls of other. Yet during the film we shall see him earning a spiritual father, learning a new craft which is close to art, falling in love and risking with his presence to break the balance of the family and social fabric around.

(video source kviff)

Anton, the stranger becomes involved in two triangles. One may seem at first sight a traditional husband-wife-lover triangle, but the young woman is pregnant and the husband is the young and greedy finance tycoon-in-becoming who looks so much like many of the materialistic Israeli (and not only Israeli) young men today, so the conflict is not only romantic but also a social one. The second one is a father-son-spiritual son conflict, between the old Mr. Fidelman, his son and again the stranger – which actually reflects as in a mirror the relation between the father, son and partner of Fidelman, Malamud, who dies at the beginning of the story. The relation between father and son seems to be a preferred theme in recent Israeli movies, describing not only the tension between generations, between tradition and modernity, but also the one between the Israel that could have been the the country it became.

 

(video source pctv1)

 

Then we have Sasson Gabai. This wonderful actor is now beyond what can be described as stardom. He more than shines in every role he makes on screen, on stage or at TV – he lives and becomes his characters to the point that he makes them part of our lives. His Mr. Fidelman is a tough and grumpy old man whose whole universe is his antiques shop and his craftsmanship of restoring old furniture, and this universe risks to be lost when his partner dies and his son inherits the business and plans to sell it. His savior may be Anton, the stranger, who seems eager to learn the art and share with Fidelman the feelings refused by his son. Or maybe it is the old piano that may or may not be or become a piece of value which may ensure financial survival. However any of these saving acts would come at the expense of the gathering back of his broken family, and at the climax moment Fidelman will need to make the crucial decision.

 

script writer Erez Kav-El yesterday at the Herzlya Cinematheque

 

It is so refreshing for me to discover another Israeli director with a distinct voice, making of his only second big screen film such a mature, complex, and sensible piece of art. It is not a perfect one, and the rhythm of the story-telling will limit the satisfied audiences to the small art cinema theaters, but yet the hall was almost full last night at the screening at the Herzlya Cinematheque. If the saying goes true that maturity and fullness of a school of cinema is measured not in blockbusters but in the good average films, then ‘Boker Tov Adon Fidelman’ may be a good sign of maturity and fullness.

source http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1669170432/tt1787663

If elections were hold today in Israel a political party that never existed and a politician who was born only in the imagination of TV script writers and comical series directors would have good chances to exceed the minimal percentage and enter the Israeli Knesset. The name of the party is The Central Liberal Party (Hebrew acronym is MeLeL) and the politician’s name Ruby Polishuk. The Israeli electorate would not view something exceptionally new in MeLeL which is largely inspired from the liberal-secular Shinui party which about one decade ago increased dramatically it’s presence in the Israeli Knesset up to 15 mandates and entered Ariel Sharon’s government under the leadership of maverick and contested journalist Tommy Lapid, just to implode and disappear from the political scene three years later due mainly to internal conflicts. They would neither get too impressed by the idea of a mediocre politician, all but unknown to the wider public getting into the position of the minister of Social Progress, a ministry with a great name and no budget, as social progressing the weak layers of the society is a great idea in electoral slogans, but not one that gets any attention when elections are over. After all one third of the members of the Israeli Knesseth are ministers or vice-ministers, and a real Mrs. Polishuk was a MK, fact that seems to have been unknown even to the authors of the series. Polishuk is BTW a game of words with multiple meanings in Hebrew, the most obvious being the combination between politics and the Mid-Eastern open market (‘shuk’) the place of all bargains and tricks under the hot sun of the Levant.

 

source http://www.facebook.com/RubyPolishuk

 

While the first season of the series mainly followed the process where the new minister installed as a puppet and cover-up by handlers Humi Schalit (media personality Amnot Dankner in a combination of parody and homage to Tommy Lapid) and Kozo Avital (Guy Loel as the cynical media master in tune with all the political tricks and image manipulation) build the persona of the minister of the ministry with great goals and no budget, the second season that just ended takes a more serious tone and builds the portrait of the politician with a human dimension that was hard to guess previously. To a great extent this is due to the excellent acting of Sasson Gabai, one of the lead Israeli actors, but also to the smart and sensitive writing and gradual building of the character. In a country where every move of the politicians is under the permanent scrutiny of the media, with the tiny dimensions and huge contrasts of Israel it is just natural that the weaknesses of the politicians are our own weaknesses, and the tricks they play at national level are an extension of the tricks of survival that each of us play in the day-to-day life. Gabai’s Polishuk represents the corruption and lack of principles we put on the account of the politicians who lead us, but he also one of us in his mistakes. So seem to be many of the other characters around and those who followed the two seasons of the series until now may have started to care for the single mother and divorced office manager Solly Barzel (Hanna Azoulay Hasfari), for the young, ambitious and always gaffing communication manager Tkuma (Shir Gadani), for the neglected wife Monique or for other members of the staff of the minister. There is something of us in many of those and this helps us identify them as some among us.

 

source http://www.ynet.co.il/PicServer2/02022009/1999655/2_gd.jpg

 

I will not tell too much about the end of the season which is IMO simply genial, human and painful, open and making us want to see a third season come true. As with real life drama mixes into the comical thread which was dominant for most of the two seasons.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrZPPZeSn0w

(video source TheIsraeliNetwork)

 

What comes next? I do not know yet if there will be a next season of ‘Polishuk’ – as a viewer I certainly wish it. Israeli viewers cannot miss making the parallel with the wonderful British comical series ‘Yes. Minister!’ which a few seasons later became ‘Yes, Prime Minister!’. In real life the liberal center melted and disappeared in Israel, and the nationalist and religious extremes are nowadays dominant. A Prime-Minister Polishuk would be almost pure fantasy relative to the reality of today’s politics, but maybe a fantasy worth enough for the Israeli voters to make a party that does not exist and a politician which was never born exceed the minimal representation percentage in the elections.