Jewish Journal


May 29, 2008

Magnificent Seven: The Israeli Film Fest salutes Oscar nominees


This has been a banner year for Israel's small but increasingly prestigious movie industry, but even in earlier decades, the country's filmmakers came up with Oscar-worthy presentations.

To mark these achievements, the 23rd Israel Film Festival will screen all seven Academy Award-nominated pictures from Israel during the June 11-26 run.

The nominated films (none has taken home the golden statuette itself, but just wait) also reflect the life and problems during the state's 60-year existence, often viewed with a critical or ironic eye.

In chronological order, the films are:

"Sallah Shabati" (1965)
The film introduced a young Haim Topol in the title role as an immigrant from North Africa with a large family and his misadventures as he tries to become part of Israeli society. The Ashkenazi Topol, then a young man, plays the middleaged Sephardi so convincingly that even Moroccan Sephardim took him as one of their own.

Written and directed by master satirist Ephraim Kishon, the film spears everything from Israeli party politics and ideological kibbutzniks to religious and ethnic misunderstandings. "Sallah" is arguably Israel's best, and certainly funniest, film and should not be missed.

"The Policeman" (1971)
In another work by the prolific Kishon, Azulai (Shaike Ophir) is a good-hearted cop so incompetent that he hasn't received a promotion in 20 years. When he is about to be fired, the Israeli underworld takes matters into its own hands to make sure Azulai keeps his job.

"I Love You Rosa" (1972)
The offbeat love story by director Moshe Mizrahi explores the complications when 11-year-old Nissim tries to uphold the Jewish law under which a brother is obligated to marry the widow left behind by his deceased older brother. Rosa is understandably not enthusiastic, but years later a grown-up Nissim gives it another try. Beautifully photographed in Old Jerusalem.

"The Home on Chelouche Street" (1974)
In a change of pace, Mizrahi goes back to the last days of the British Mandate in Palestine. The film focuses on Sami, recently arrived with his impoverished Sephardi family, who falls in love with an older woman, a Russian immigrant, and joins the anti-British resistance.

"Operation Thunderbolt" (1977)
The film documents one of the most daring operations of the ingenious Israel Defense Forces, when commandos free hijacked Israeli hostages held by Palestinian and German terrorists at Uganda's Entebbe airport.

"Beyond the Walls" (1984)
A hard-boiled prison drama, with outstanding performances, in which Jewish and Arab factions battle for supremacy, but unite against the brutal Israeli official who runs the maximum-security facility.

"Beaufort" (2007)
The man-at-war drama, directed by American-born Joseph Cedar, broke the long drought for Israeli Oscar nominations. The action centers on the first Lebanon war, when a contingent of Israeli soldiers defend a massive Crusader fortress before the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, after an 18-year struggle.

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