Home  > Israel-News Today
Israel, When the Lights Go Down (NY) TIMES) By JODI RUDOREN JERUSALEM, ISREAL 07/22/12) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/sunday-review/a-correspondents-impressions-from-the-jerusalem-film-festival.html?_r=1&gwh=EF572D299DB281B600831342FD7B255A
The Headline Contains

* Choose from 1 of the 4 descriptions for the headline and or any paragraph.


SITTING in a darkened movie theater one recent morning, I had to suppress the urge to clap along as a dozen young male adherents of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov — well, actors playing Breslovers — danced around their black-hatted rabbi to an improvised ditty, “Ani lo yodea klum,” Hebrew for “I don’t know anything.” The rabbi had started the romp with that simple statement, trying to explain that wisdom was in the text for the taking. The Hasidic men, rowdy yet reverent, took up the chant, and soon the whole study group was on its feet, a memorable moment of relief in “God’s Neighbors,” an intense feature about conflicts between religious and secular Jews.
Paragraph-1 Contains
A few hours later, in a neighboring theater, it was hard not to smile as I watched five middle-aged Palestinian men — not actors, for this was a documentary — dancing their own improvised jig, under a flimsy tin roof in the West Bank village of Bilin. As part of an ongoing protest against the security barrier Israel has built, and the isolation of their village and the confiscation of some of the village’s land, the men had erected their own outpost, the occupied playing the occupiers. Joyous if beleaguered, they clapped and chanted just like the Breslovers, creating a similarly lighthearted respite in the heartbreaking chronicle of the years-long Bilin struggle, “Five Broken Cameras.”
Paragraph-2 Contains
These two films, each portraying one of two key conflicts vexing Israeli society, were among 26 Israeli movies screened this month at the 29th annual Jerusalem Film Festival. Recently arrived to cover Israel and the Palestinian territories, I inhaled nine of the films — six documentaries and three features — over a week in hopes of gleaning some insights into the people, places and production values of my new beat.
Paragraph-3 Contains
It was, to be sure, an imperfect experiment — I chose films in part based on scheduling around my reporting and child care demands. But it is always interesting to see how a society presents itself on the silver screen, and there was a striking repetition of certain images and themes despite the range of topics and styles. I am no film critic, so I offer here just some humble notes on what I saw.
Paragraph-4 Contains
The festival itself is a glorious event, centered at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, a modern four-story facility built into a hill near the Old City. This year’s opened with some 6,000 people pouring into Sultan’s Pool, a neighboring park, for an outdoor showing of Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” where the multi-accented audience sang along to “Volare” in the opening credits. Overall, 45,000 tickets were distributed for 315 screenings over 10 days (the Israeli movies filled 11,000 seats at 55 showings), and the crowd was striking for its lack of religious Jews — rare in the capital — or Arabs of any kind.
Paragraph-5 Contains
The next morning I went to “Numbered,” a documentary about the dwindling population of Auschwitz survivors with the notorious brandings on their arms. Co-directed by Uriel Sinai, a prizewinning photojournalist, the 60-minute homage includes searing portraits of women and men displaying their numbers almost as badges of honor. One used his as the code for a family safe. Another always covered his with long sleeves. Three men with consecutive numbers were miraculously reunited. There are tender love stories within the larger epic of loss, and while the audience emerged with damp eyes, the overall message is somehow upbeat.
Paragraph-6 Contains
The Holocaust was an undercurrent in a number of films, as it is in Israeli politics. “Israel: A Home Movie,” a collection of grainy reels from the 1930s to the ’70s, starts out largely as a survivors’ story, with one man recalling being told when his ship landed to save money for the return passage. Plodding at first, the movie eventually gets to some remarkable clips: one, recorded by the sons of Moshe Dayan, shows the legendary general, with his signature eye patch, relieving himself in a field. War and military service seemed as ever- present on screen as they are in Israeli reality, and so these home movies include a soldier’s chronicle of marching victoriously through the West Bank the day after Israel captured it from Jordan in 1967. Even more stunning is footage of a beach party on Yom Kippur, 1973, interrupted by a fighter jet being shot down over the sea.
Paragraph-7 Contains
Among my favorite films was “Single Plus,” a crass, dark comedy about a 34-year-old Tel Aviv woman whose mother is so desperate for a grandchild that she fakes cancer and refuses to take her medicine until the daughter has a confirmed pregnancy test. The blunt, raw outrageousness seems quintessentially Israeli: in the Jennifer Aniston version, the daughter would fall in love with the cute new aide in the kindergarten where she works; here, he rapes her from behind in the children’s bathroom, wearing a condom no less, and knocks out her two front teeth.
Paragraph-8 Contains
Like so many of the political actors here, most of the films seemed unable to sensitively portray both sides of the perpetual conflicts, or uninterested in doing so. Two centered on Arabs — “Good Garbage,” a documentary about Palestinians who make their living scavenging from a dump in Hebron, and “Sharqiya,” a feature about Bedouins whose homes in the Negev have been demolished — offer one-dimensional caricatures of settlers and Israeli officials. “Rock the Casbah,” a feature about an Army unit in Gaza in 1989, is slightly more nuanced: the Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soldiers, killing one by dropping a washing machine on him from a rooftop, are hopeless thugs, but a family whose home is commandeered is presented sympathetically.
Paragraph-9 Contains
“God’s Neighbors” makes little effort to humanize its Arab elements, but the movie is mostly about internal Jewish conflicts between the secular and the religious, and in that it was the most balanced I saw. Set in Bat Yam, an increasingly Orthodox city south of Tel Aviv, the movie chronicles the self-declared enforcers of Talmudic codes on the street. With Tarantino-esque overtones, a trio of young Breslovers, who smoke pot when they’re not studying, use baseball bats to beat up neighbors who blare music on Friday nights, keep a salon open after the start of Shabbat or sell X-rated videos. But the central character, Avi, falls in love with the woman he is chastising for wearing a tank top, and suddenly: complexity. There are no pure heroes or villains, the people are flawed yet likable — exactly what makes a movie compelling.
Paragraph-10 Contains
In one pivotal scene, Avi, torn by his spiritual conviction and the tug of his heart, stands at the edge of the sea begging God for some kind of sign.
Paragraph-11 Contains
It is the same sea where “Five Broken Cameras,” which won the festival’s documentary prize, fades out. The children of the Palestinian filmmaker from Bilin, who was seriously injured in an accident, join him for his final treatment at a Tel Aviv hospital. Afterward, they head to the beach and frolic in the water, no settlers or soldiers or security barriers in sight. Jodi Rudoren is the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 07/22/12)
Paragraph-12 Contains
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY


NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-Top Publishers-Index-Top Return to Top