April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm
The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf
The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.
The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
February 9th, 2017 — 6:31pm
Mr. Gaga- A True Story of Love and Dance -sp
If you are a fan and lover of cutting-edge modern dance, you will be mesmerized by this foreign documentary film( in English) of the story of Israeli choreographer and dancer, Odar Naharin. His passion and dedication to dance, and his travels from Israel to New York and back to Israel, as well as the development of the special “Gaga” movement that he originated is a fascinating story. In a post-screening discussion, Director Tomer Heymann, who produced the film with his brother, Barak Heymann and Diana Holtzman, shared the several year adventure that he took to make this movie. He told how he tracked down childhood footage of Naharin, along with interviews of some of the icons in modern dance.
A reflection of the uniqueness and originality of Naharin is not only demonstrated in the design and movement of his work, but also in the journey that he has taken during his 64 years. His interest in movement dates back to his youth and also his time in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War (a leg injury prevented him from directly being in combat).
Naharin came to New York and studied simultaneously at the Julliard and the American Ballet Theater (an unheard of accomplishment). He was then accepted by Martha Graham into the most prestigious modern dance company in the world. Actual video footage of Graham talking about this young protégé is shown. Despite this tremendous opportunity and the recognition of his skills, he did not feel comfortable continuing to study in the United States and decided he wanted to form his own ballet company in Israel. By that time, he had met his wife-to-be, a beautiful Asian dancer, Mari Kajiwara, with whom he fell in love at first sight and arranged a meeting with her. She was the first non-black dancer accepted into the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. They came to Israel to direct the Batsheva Dance Company.
There are many more trials and tribulations, happy moments and great sadness, some of which are shared with us in this film. At the time of Israel’s 50th anniversary, when his dance company was to be one of the featured cultural events, there erupted a controversy about the various simple costumes of Israeli army undergarments that his dancers were to wear.
As riveting as is the unusual storyline about this unusual man, the real attraction of this film is the dance that explodes on the screen. Mixed with some very interesting footage of a young Naharin, most of the movie shows beautifully photographed dancers from all different angles doing the amazing movements that this man has pioneered during his lifetime. The film opens in Los Angeles this week at the Laemmle Monica Theater and at Lincoln Center in New York City. Hopefully, the showing will expand to other theatres so many more people can enjoy this unique story and dance experience. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
May 4th, 2016 — 1:20am
Presenting Princess Shaw-sp
The appeal of this documentary film is that it introduced the viewer to a phenomenon that many of us did not fully appreciate is happening on the Internet. Samantha Montgomery is a black woman probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s who works as an aide in a nursing home in New Orleans. We learned later in the film that she had an unhappy childhood and that she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend despite her protests to her mother. As she got older, she had few emotional supports and became one of many people who reported her daily life activities on the internet. She also likes to make up songs and sing her latest creations acapella. She had aspirations to become recognized as a singer and would sing at open microphone nights in local clubs, frequently with just a few patrons in the audience. One time she went to an audition with hundreds of other aspiring singers to try out for the famous TV show “The Voice” but never made it to the stage to be seen by the judges.
Film director Ido Haar and film producer Liran Atzmor had the idea to do a documentary film about the phenomena of people singing their own songs on the internet. They contacted Ms. Montgomery who used the stage name on the internet as Princess Shaw, as one of many who might be the subject of their film. However, the film producers apparently learned something very interesting that Princess Shaw did not know and made the documentary duo decide to focus only on her.
Unbeknownst to Princess Shaw an Israeli music producer by the name of Ophir Kutiel who is known as Kutiman was downloading her singing on Youtube and was inviting Youtube musicians around the world to arrange various musical accompaniments to the singing that Princess Shaw was putting out on her Youtube channel. Through skillful editing, Kutiman used the talents of several musicians who never knew each other or sat in the same room to put together a terrific arrangement of Princess Shaw singing a haunting song titled Give It Up. The documentary filmmaker, who was following her around with one hand held camera was able to capture the tearful surprise and emotion when she first heard the professional arrangement with the various musicians from around the world. Soon this song had over one million hits on the internet. Princess Shaw was then invited to come to Israel to meet Kutiman and appear in a concert in a very large venue. She now has a record contract and travels around the United States promoting this documentary film where we met her in a screening of this movie which opens in Los Angeles and other major cities at the end of May.
So there you have it, a unique story of our modern times. The documentary film is an amalgam of Youtube clips and handheld videos as the main subject was attentively followed around in her various activities. It was an interesting idea for a documentary film and we are glad that we saw it. For a sample of Kutiman’s production of Princess Shaw singing Give it Up on YouTube with musicians from around the world that now has over 2 ½ million hits, click here (2016).
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary
October 25th, 2015 — 9:16pm
The Farewell Party -nf
It is a fitting coincidence that just a few weeks ago, Governor Brown signed into law, California’s Right to Die law which makes it the 5th state to have such legislation. This law will give terminally ill patients in California the option to end their lives by swallowing a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs after certain conditions are met.
This very well done Israeli film, with English subtitles, directed and written by the duo of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit addresses this very issue. It is a sensitive but yet comedic plot which mostly takes place in a luxurious assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein) have good friends, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and Max (Samuel Wolfe). Max is painfully dying and wants to end his life. The doctors want to continue treating him despite his suffering and the inability to relieve his pain. His wife, wants something to be done to end his suffering and asks their friends to help. They meet another resident of the assisted living facility, Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) who has experience ending lives with fatal doses of drugs. He is a veterinarian who has obviously put down many animals. and he agrees to help them. Yehezkel is an inventor of sorts and designs a machine in which the patient can push a button and have the deadly drugs injected for a painless death which they do for Max. Word spreads around the assisted living facility and this team does the deed another time. Levana does not favor what her husband and the others are doing. However, she begins to reconsider when she realizes that she has a progressive dementia.
So this well-written sensitive story with some wonderful comic touches puts this important subject under the microscope. The acting by these veteran actors is magnificent. The cinematography is very well done. The film received 14 nominations for the Israeli Oscar and won for best director with Revach winning for best actor. It is not easy to walk the line between drama and comedy on a subject such as death and assisted suicide but this film negotiates it quite well.
It is interesting to note that Israel has had an assisted suicide law for about 10 years. But in these situations, the “devil is in the details” and the values of these laws has to be closely examined to determine how well they serve the terminally ill and their families. It is a movie such as this one that can stimulate meaningful discussions, which can address the concerns that are involved in these situations. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
February 17th, 2013 — 9:31pm
This film by Director Dror Moreh is one of five films featured documentaries nominated for an Oscar in 2012. It is mostly talking heads interviews with the last 6 Directors of the Shin Bet which is the secret Israeli security agency and has a motto, Defender that shall not be seen. This is a highly secret agency in which only the names of the leaders are known. As we initially watched this film unfold it seemed that it might be a propaganda piece to support Israel’s actions in regard to the Palestinians. To the contrary, it turned out to be a serious but insightful discussion of the seemingly endless and at times hopeless conflict between the Israel government and the discontented Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Each of the subjects of the film were past Directors of Shin Bet and had the responsibility for the internal security of Israel. They made life and death decisions, developed highly sophisticated and intricate data gathering operations through human resources and high tech equipment. Once it became clear the Palestinians were conducting deadly terrorists activities heralded by blowing up a bus and killing numerous innocent people, Shin Bet conducted thousands of heavy duty interrogations and carried out assassinations of known Arab terrorists. The film showed via a camera in the sky, following a vehicle known to contain a confirmed important terrorist leader and possibly some other people. The decision process and ultimately the dropping of a bomb on that vehicle was shown from the aerial view. Another story that was told was the successful murder of a notorious terrorist by the use of a cell phone with an explosive device in it. Footage was also shown of the incident where Shin Bet captured Israeli right wing fanatics who were intent on blowing up the Temple on the Mount (the main point of Arab worship in Jerusalem) after being encouraged by some orthodox rabbis. The complicated Israeli politics were demonstrated as many of these people were ultimately released without punishment. On the other hand, the persistent desire of the Palestinians to make Israel suffer was clearly shown and the absence of any desire by them to accept the existence of Israel is well known. The one man who might have stood a chance of somehow forging a solution to this seemingly unsolvable dilemma, Yitzak Rabin, was himself assassinated by a right wing Israeli much to the dismay of Shin Bet who had the responsibility of protecting Rabin. The most surprising message that we gleamed from this fascinating film is that just about each of these patriotic leaders of Shin Bet seemed to feel that no matter what the terrorists continue to do, the Israeli government should continue to try to talk to their leaders. They seem to say this at the same time, as it is clear that the next series of Shin Bet leaders will carry out their tasks with dedication and at time deadly precision. We have no idea how director Dror Moreh convinced these men of secrets to share their experience and views but the result is an unusual and revealing documentary film. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
August 4th, 2011 — 6:53pm
The Debt-sp – When you start with a plot that has the Israeli mossad tracking down the “Surgeon of Birkenau” who is in East Berlin working as a fertility gynecologist, you can be pretty sure that you are going to have an exciting movie. Then when you have veteran Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren playing the lead along with Jessica Chastain, an engaging new actress who has starred in several movies which are coming out over a six month period, it becomes obvious that this is a movie which also deserves your attention. These two outstanding actresses are complimented by Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds and Sam Worthngton This is a film that will not disappoint. It is thriller with fast action, great tension along with a story that you may think you understand but it will take you for ride and challenge you in an ethical dilemma which the characters eventually face. Director John Madden expects the audience to be alert and you may miss a few fine points of the plot but in the end you come away still thinking about the story and the repercussions of it. What else can you ask for? (2011)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller
March 8th, 2011 — 8:23pm
For My Father- nf– This Israeli-German co-produced movie in Hebrew with sub titles gives us a thought provoking storyline as we see early in the film, a young Arab (probably a Palestinian) by the name of Tarek (Shredi Dabarin) is smuggled into Tel Aviv wearing an explosive vest. on a suicide mission. He is angry at the Jews and is ready to die . There is a subplot how he can save his father’s honor by going through with this deed and his father might be killed if he doesn’t. He grits his teeth and pushes the button but there is “ wardrobe malfunction”. There is a faulty switch so he enters an electrical repair shop and orders a new part but it won’t be ready for two days (since the next day is Shabbat). He meets some nice Israelis who treat him well and have their own tales of pain and alienation including a beautiful girl Karen (Hil Yalon). There are phone calls back and forth to his parents who don’t know what he is about to do as well as calls from his handlers, who once his switch is replaced, want him to find a crowded street and get on with it. They also have the option to remotely push the button but they would rather he find the right spot to do it. What will he do? Then there is the finale. On one hand this movie is simple straightforward and predictable but on the other hand, each character and situation reflects the human tragedy of the Middle East conflict on both sides. This is not a pro-Israel movie. Rather you come away appreciating some of the motivations and angst of each of the characters whom me meet here. The film holds your attention and forces you to confront all the ambiguities. Hopefully there will be an Arab made movie that tries to do the same thing. (2008)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
February 20th, 2011 — 1:37am
The Human Resources Manager sp A woman is killed in a terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem but her body is not immediately identified until a paystub found in her belongings places her as working for a large industrial bakery. A newspaper reporter (Guri Alfi) writes a story suggesting that the bakery should have noticed that she wasn’t coming to work and something must have happened to her. The Human Resources Manager( Mark Ivanir) is given the job by his boss to identify her, notify the family who is in Romania and avoid bad publicity for the company. The screenplay by Noah Stillman is based on a novel titled A Woman in Jerusalem by the well known Israeli writer Abraham B. Jehoshua which we both happened to have read several months ago. The book had the leisure to show in depth the feelings that the HR manager developed for this deceased woman as he learned more about her. It was able to depict the complex character of this man as he attempted to return the body to her family. While veteran actor Invanir did an admirable job of trying pull it off, director Evan Riklis orchestrated a tragic comedy which turned in to a road movie rather than a story of a tragic death which slowly reveals the victim and her postmortem impact on people. The film is choppy at times although it moves the story with this unusual plot. In order to give someone who has read the book a worthwhile experience, the movie needs to either capture many of the fine points of the story or present a unique refreshing aspect of it. In our opinion, this film did neither so it will probably disappoint those who read the book but may intrigue those who approach it with a fresh mind. The film was mostly in Hebrew with subtitles, while English was spoken occasionally. There was a subtle movie score by Cyril Morin who attempted to weave a faint suggestion of gypsy music against the bleak Romanian background. (2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
January 17th, 2010 — 2:05am
* * *
Waltz with Bashir – nf – We had never seen an animated documentary before but that is the essence of this movie. It won many film festival awards as well as a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and an Academy Award nomination in this category. Israeli Director Ari Folman set out to fill in the gaps in his memory concerning his experience in the Israeli army during the first war in Lebanon in the 1980s. He does this by interviewing soldiers who served with him at that time, some of whom he hasn’t seen in more than twenty years, plus others who went through this experience, whom he recruits by newspaper advertisements. In most cases he uses their recorded voices in the film but his team has a done a brilliant job developing techniques for depicting the story in cartoon animation which is based mostly on scenes recreated in a studio. The result is a realistic dramatic account of what was a very traumatic experience as this 19-year-old man went through the war and witnessed frightening horrible things. This presumably is why he has these memory gaps and why some of the narrators up until now have had difficulty in saying what they had seen. The key event is the massacre at Sabria and Shatila where the Christian Phalangists murdered Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. This group was a Lebanese political faction allied with the Israeli army who are shown stationed on the periphery of this area but voicing objections once they realized what was happening. The more you understand the history and the politics of this time the better you can appreciate the movie. However, the anti war theme is loud and clear and is punctuated by the massacre scene transitioning into actual newsreel footage of the aftermath of this horrific event. (2008)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, War