Posts Tagged ‘Israeli film’

Kishon (2018) * * * * | Berlinale 2018 | Market EFM

Dir.: Eliav Lilti; Documentary with Renana Kishon, Rafael Kishon, Amir Kishon; Israel 2017, 87 min.

Directed and co-written by Eliav Lilti (Urban Tale), this portrait of Israeli writer, filmmaker and playwright Ephraim Kishon (1924-2005) is mainly told by and from the perspective of his three children. It is not a hagiography of the man who wrote 50 books, 9 plays and directed 5 films, but a tribute to a whole life dominated by the Holocaust, which Kishon survived, but whose shadow he could never escape.

Born in Budapest as Ferenc Hoffmann into a middle-class Jewish family, university was not an option because of the racial laws, so he started to make jewellery instead, before being deported to the camps: “The Jews of Hungary felt safe; they said ’well, even the doctor of the leader Admiral Horthy is Jewish’. But then Horthy send his doctor to Auschwitz and the Jews saw their fatal mistake”.  Kishon survived due to his talent as a chess player: “I did not dare to lose a match to the commandant, because he would have sent me back to the forced labour force”.  Escaping, he found his way back to Budapest where he was reunited with his parents and his sister, who had been saved by a neighbour, whilst the rest of the large family was murdered.

Under Stalinism he made a career with a satirical magazine under the name of Kisthon, also winning a contest for best play which focused on the persecution of all bald people – serving as a metaphor for the Jews – because they had been declared “bad” by the state. He got his prize money but the play was never staged as one of Hungary’s leading politicians, Matyas Rakosy, was famous for his baldness. In 1949 Kisthon emigrated to Israel, where the border clerk renamed him Ephraim Kishon.

After learning Ivrit (Hebrew) whilst working as a janitor in a kibbutz, he took up writing again in his new language. His books and plays were very successfully, and his debut film Sallah Shabati (1964) was nominated for a Foreign Oscar. After what was to be his last film, The Fox in the Chicken Coop (1978) turned out to be a flop, Kishon felt unwelcome in Israel and set up a second home in Appenzell (Switzerland) in 1981. With his books selling in their millions, he was by now more popular in Europe than in Israel. In Germany, “the children of my executioners are queuing for hours to get a signed copy of my books.” He even started writing in German, one of the books called “Mein Kamm” (My Comb). Needless to say what the Israeli reaction was. But Kishon defends himself: “It was not just the Germans; Hungary, Romania and many more states supported the Holocaust. There were 110 000 Waffen-SS volunteers in the Netherlands. If you want a total boycott, you can’t set foot in Europe”.

His children Renana, Rafael (Rafi) and Amir talk about a rather strange upbringing. Driving with thier father in the car, they had to listen to the speeches of Hitler and other leading Nazis. And at bedtime, their father would give them Hitler salute: “That was very typical for my father”, says Renana. He also joked about his time in the camps: “The soda was very flat, no sparkle”. On the other hand, the children were allowed to watch Clockwork Orange and other adult films: “There was no censorship”. The boys could read the Playboy, which their father flaunted at the table. When Sara, his wife of 35 years and mother of his children, was dying of cancer “it turned out, that Dad was not a Mother Theresa. He never took her for treatments, and when she died, he was not present, he could not bring himself to see her”, says Renana tearfully. Whilst Kishon cried a few days after her death whilst receiving the Israel Prize for Life Achievement, he could not refrain from criticising that “it is like a state pardon, to get this prize. It is usually giving to left wingers, who love the Palestinians, and not the settlers.” Renana testifies, that he was always jealous of Amos Oz; and Kishon was angry, that he was not decorated for his writing alone, he felt snubbed, because he was foremost a writer.
Lilti and co-creator Arik Bernstein have integrated cartoons of Kishon, and a animated version of the long interview, Kishon gave to his friend, the journalist Yaron London in Appenzell in the mid-90ies. There are many special effects, like the cartoon versions of Kishon and London walking in 40ies Budapest, whilst the Jews are being deported onto trucks. Kishon is so much more than a biography: it is a history lesson about the force of evil, and its longevity. AS

KISHON is screening as part of Go2Films new line-up in BERLINALE EFM | 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

The Congress (2013)

Dir.: Ariel Folman | Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston,Israel 2013, 120 min.

After the success of Waltz with Bashir director Ariel Folman has filmed Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 novel “The Futurological Congress” with an even more stunning result in this psychedelic animation. In the first forty minutes of aesthetically straightforward action, Robin Wright stars as an actress with a conflict: sell her identity and secure the future of her children, Sarah and Aaron (who is suffering from a rare disease), or be herself and suffer the consequences of any Hollywood actress over 40. A tough choice for any woman.

The-Congress-002 copy

Her agent (Keitel) wants her to give her identity to the film corporation Miramount: as a scanned “product” she can be used in any film to be shot in the next twenty years. Miramount boss Danny Huston pressurises her eventually into signing and makes good use of her in countless B movies and TV series. After twenty years on the shelf an aged Wright is invited to the Congress of the title, where her future ‘career’ will be discussed. On entering a special zone, she (like the majority of the human population) takes a sniff from a vial – and the world changes into an inferno of glaringly coloured animations, in which everything is possible.

The answer for this radical aestheic change is easy: the pills have got better, Prozac is passé, the vials give everybody who uses them the identity they want; Marilyn Monroe, Dracula or Superman/woman in cartoon form. Only snag: you can never go back into the real world and be your real self. As it emerges, only a few believers in truth and identity live in the old world: drab, grey and full of poverty. Searching for Aaron (she has already lost Sarah to an unknown new identity), Wright, thanks to a special pill, wanders between the two worlds.


In an horrific parody to our current world of call-centres and diminishing personal engagement, everybody here is degraded to a gigantic cartoon existence, where life follows the dramatic rules assigned by ‘Disney’. But most people love this dream which panders to and embraces the growing cult of celebrity; allowing characters to assume the starring roles in movies, even if they are only animated ones. The contrast between the outsiders in their miserable Third World existence and the trippers of the entertainment world could not be greater: The shocking, strange, and action-orientated colour cartoon versus the black and white doc realism. What price a soul, if you can be everything you want to be in colour and Technicolor? A melancholy dystopian adventure that envisages a post Covid future even more frightening and bleaker than Orwell’s 1984. AS


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