Posts Tagged ‘Israeli cinema’

Advocate (2018) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche; Documentary with Lea Tsemel; Canada, Switzerland, Israel 2019, 110 min.

Advocate explores the work of Israeli defence lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians – suicide bombers as well as innocent clients – earning her the name “Devil’s Advocate” in her home country where the Law often stands alone in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinians.

Born in 1945 in Haifa, Tsemel volunteered for the 1967 Six Day War and was one of the first Israeli women to visit the Western Wall. Somehow the conflict politicised her – she could not believe in the Government slogan ”War for Peace”. After studying law, she served as an apprentice to Human Right’s Lawyer Felicia Langer.

One of Tsemel’s first trials was the defence of Ahmed, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy in 1972.  Ahmed and his cousin Hassan were captured with knives and accused of an attempted suicide bombing, even though video evidence was to the contrary. Under Israeli Law, nobody under the age of fourteen can be prosecuted for a crime. But a sensationalist media called for the death penalty for Ahmed. As it is often the case when innocent Palestinians are involved, the Israeli prosecution went for a plea bargaining, and reached a guilty verdict in spite of the lack of evidence.

Tsemel’s next got her teeth into the case of Israa Jabis, a young Palestinian mother who was also accused of an attempted suicide bombing after her propane gas tank in the back of her car exploded. Although Israa was the only one injured, the case made legal history, making it illegal to use evidence from admissions gained under torture and duress at court. 

The directors use “Fly-on-the wall” techniques to show Tsemel working on two concurrent cases, one professional, the other personal – and it soon becomes clear that she is not an easy person to work for. The directors made fluent use of historical footage and TV appearances of Tsemel,  juxtaposing them with the here and now. But the application of Rotoscope and split-screens (to hide the identities of many involved), as well as the sparse use of music by Marcel Lepage, create a very unsettling atmosphere. Tsemel’s husband, Michel Warschawsky, a director of a Palestinian project, also becomes one of her clients after being arrested for his activities. Interviews with him and the couple’s son and daughter are illuminating. But Advocate would have been more convincing as a document had the filmmakers questioned Tsemel more insistently about her motives to defend violent perpetrators. Calling herself a “very angry, optimistic woman” and a “losing lawyer” she has the last word with her life’s motto “All I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli courts”. Tsemel has gone on to win  international Law awards in France and Germany, Tsemel’s is not as powerful in her homeland and is possibly should be. Advocate is certainly proof that truth is often the first victim during wartime. AS

WINNER BEST DOCUMETNARY | UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | WINNER DOCUMENTARY AWARD.

 

 

Foxtrot (2017) ****

Dir: Samuel Maoz |Drama | Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland / 113’ | cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray

A grieving father experiences the absurd circumstances around the death of his son, in this latest critical reflection on military culture from Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz (Lebanon). Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment in the midst of the capital. When they learn of the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. When it later transpires that Jonathan is alive after all, Michael still behaves like a psychotic, showing no relief that his son is coming home. He insults his wife, daughter, brother and army officers, and insists on seeing his son again. With the help of a general, Jonathan is whisked away from a road block where he and three others soldiers has just shot four innocent Palestinians in their car; the young soldiers mistaking an empty beer can for a grenade.
The general who orders Jonathan’s release is also in charge of the “cleaning-up” operation: the Palestinian car is literally buried by a bulldozer: Jonathan’s final sketch, which ends up on the wall of his parent’s apartment, shows the operation. Later his mother will interpret the drawing as herself (the car) being swept away by her bulldozing husband. Which, in a way is true, since Michael is hiding a terrible secret from his family: when he was an officer in the army, he was guilty of causing the death of many of his men, causing him to remain emotionally detached from his family, and letting his frustration out on Max, the dog, who suffers from internal bleeding from his master’s frequent kickimg. But Michael is not able or willing to come clean – only a late and tragic twist will allow him him to confess his guilty secret to his wife.
The Feldman’s are representative of many Israeli families in a country at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the general to the soldiers after the incident. Moaz captures the absurdity of this permanent conflict in amusing scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war, with the Feldman’s  sombre family dwelling: both existing in a parallel universe that has seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of emotional connection to those at home that forces Israeli soldiers to keep on killing and being killed. This schizophrenic situation has gone on for so long that it is seen as the new normal. Foxtrot is a passionate appeal to a whole country, to put an end to the situation. Samuel Maoz’s debut feature, Lebanon (which won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival), was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot almost entirely inside of a tank. Foxtrot, his second feature, steps away from that fevered claustrophobia to tell another maddening story of war and conflict, but this one on a much broader canvas. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Working Woman (Isha Ovedet) 2017 ****

Dir.: Michal Aviad; Cast: Liron Ben-Slush, Menashe Noy, Oshi Cohen; Israel 2018, 93 min.

Best known her documentaries Michal Aviad (Invisible) sophomore feature is more a study of make incompetence than female empowerment. It tackles the timely issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in a detailed casestudy of a woman who has her work cut out both at home and in the office.

Orna (Ben-Slush) is feeling really positive about her new job in her former army boss’s property company. “Benny knows I’m hard working”, she tells her husband Ofer (Cohen), whose restaurant is struggling. But Ofer has his head in the clouds, with his foodie vanity project. Meanwhile in the world of real estate, Benny (Noy) starts his campaign to ‘groom’ Orna, immediately asking to wear a nice skirt instead of trousers, and letting her hair down “because it suits you”. But when he kisses the working mother of three, he over-steps the mark and makes up for it by offering Orna a promotion and securing an alcohol licence for Ofer’s restaurant.

Benny then whisks Orna off to Paris on the pretence of using her language skills for some company business. Carried away by the ambience, the makes another move on Orna but sadly fails to perform: “You are driving me crazy”, he complains, putting the blame (in time honoured male fashion) on this highly capable woman. Orna immediately leaves Benny’s company, but when he refuses to give her a reference, she is forced to take things into her own hands.

Liron Ben-Slush is the heart and soul of this absorbing drama about a positive woman caught between two impossible men, who both want to exploit her in different ways, relying on her good humour and generosity of spirit to get their own way. Ofer is like a forth child, expecting her to take carry the whole family, while pandering to his ego. Benny is the typical male chauvinist, determined to have his way with Orna, and blaming her when it all backfires. Orna feels guilty and responsible, and has to re-invent herself to survive in this subtle chamber piece, supported by its convincing cast. Aviad creates an important chapter in the ongoing #MeToo campaign. AS

SCREENING DURING UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

                                  

A Tramway in Jerusalem (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

 Israel is a complex nation of multiculturalism – and none better to convey this than author/ filmmaker Amos Gitai in his fraught and frustrating drama A Tramway in Jerusalem.

His characters seem trapped on a freewheeling journey to nowhere, going round and round on what seems like an endless trip on London’s Circle Line – the fact is they’re all in the same boat: gentiles, Hasidic Jews, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. Gitai’s embraces the chaotic nature of these Semitic people – they argue, cajole, console, sing and debate – but they are rarely silent.

The film opens with a smiling woman singing an operatic song, a man plays the oud. Mathieu Almaric slouches back on a seat with his son, visiting the city for the first time he is delighted to be there finally. A group of Hassidic men chant a religious chorus. This series of sketches trundles along offering a taster for those who have never been to the country but have heard a lot about it – and it’s very different on the inside. One Palestinian woman has a Dutch passport through marriage, another has lived abroad but they share common ground. Anyone without an Israeli passport usually gets a hard time, and Gitai shows this happening to the Palestinian woman. There is even a Catholic Priest (Pippo Delbono) who rambles on incoherently. And black humour features too – the Jews have survived by sending themselves up. In the funniest sketch, a mother is lamenting her son’s lack of a wife, he listens – rapt, while all around their fellow passengers banter and debate the issue off screen. This is Israel in microcosm. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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