Jewish Journal


May 24, 2007

Trio of Israeli student films shine on the French Riviera


'The Death of Shula,' by Asaf Korman

'The Death of Shula,' by Asaf Korman

Asaf Korman rushes into the Quinzaine Des Réalisateurs, Directors' Fortnight pavilion on the Cannes Croisette.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he says, explaining that he's just come from a screening of "The Banishment," a Russian film by Andrei Zviaguintsev in Official Competition and described as a modern Adam and Eve story. "In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I'd be walking into screenings like this," he says.

Korman has every reason to be excited. Only 25, he, too, has a film making its world premiere at the Cannes Festival's Directors' Fortnight, a parallel and noncompetitive section noted for its innovative films. His movie, "The Death of Shula," his graduation project from Tel Aviv's Minshar for Art school, is the first Israeli student film ever selected for this category, and Korman has come to Cannes for all 12 days of the festival.

Korman's 25-minute short is one of three Israeli student films at Cannes this year. The other two were selected for the Cinefondation category, a competition exclusively for short films produced by film school students.

Dressed in a black suit and maroon T-shirt, a knit cap atop his head and black bag strung over his shoulder, Korman looks the part of a director. And he's learning to take advantage of the concomitant perks.

"Let's go upstairs to the private bar," he suggests. "It's quiet and the drinks are free."

On the Noga Hilton's rooftop patio, Korman requests a beer but is told it's too early. He settles for an espresso and removes his cap as he takes a table overlooking the Croisette, which is jammed with shorts-clad tourists, as well as women in full-length satin dresses and men in tuxedos.

In the distance is the Mediterranean Sea, awash with what appears to be a flotilla of multisized private yachts. Up and down the coast, the bright sunlight reflects off the light-colored hotels and condominiums hugging the beaches and the villas ensconced on the hillsides.

The free coffee is more than a side benefit. The high cost of Riviera living is a reality for this young filmmaker, who's been given 500 euros by the Directors' Fortnight officials but finds himself in a city where, during the festival, hotel rooms go for 740 euros a night, with a 12-night minimum, and where an espresso can set you back 5 euros. To save money, he's staying with friends and eating a lot of pizza.

Korman's film, which debuts on May 25, chronicles the demise of his family's dog, a Labrador mix, and his father's attempt to bury it. Driving around with the dog in a cardboard box tied to the roof of his old VW, his father seeks the assistance of family members. But they are all busy, and he ends up doing the job himself.

Korman is careful to say that the story is based on reality, more than truth, though the image of his father driving the dead dog around stems from his childhood. But the journey is actually the father's, as he moves from being strong and independent into more fragile older age.

"It's really depressing," says Korman, describing both the feedback he's been receiving and his own attraction to somber subjects.

Korman hopes to meet with producers to find funding for a feature film. In the meantime, he's thrilled that all Directors' Fortnight films will also be shown in Paris, Brussels and other cities, giving "The Death of Shula" additional exposure.

Pathways still
"Pathways" was written and directed by Korman's friend and fellow Minshar graduate Hagar Ben-Asher, 28, who also stars in the film. It depicts the story of a young, sexually provocative woman who returns to her Israeli village and begins acting out. In the end, she brings on her own punishment in the form of a rape.

Ben-Asher wants her films to confront people, to make them think about subjects they otherwise wouldn't consider. At the same time, she says she feels guilty about doing this. She spent a year working on this "very personal" 20-minute film. "It was hell, but it was great," she says.

"Pathways" will be shown on May 25, and, afterward, Ben-Asher hopes to meet with producers interested in funding her next project, a feature film.

"It is the same character only 15 years later," she says. "Now she is a mother."

Your Younger Daughter Rachel still
The third Israeli student film, "Your Younger Daughter Rachel," is by writer/director Efrat Corem, 28. The movie, a 30-minute graduation project for the Negev's Sapir College, chronicles 24 hours in the life of 16-year-old Rachel. The teenager lives in Ashkelon with her mother and father, an unemployed housepainter who becomes increasingly violent the longer he is not working.

The film, which was screened on May 23, is shot more documentary style, mixing fiction with reality and employing nonactors. Corem is committed to making movies about the people in her southern community who are surrounded by unemployment, poverty and crime.

"I feel responsible to them," she says. "They are the forgotten people of Israel."

Corem hopes to make contacts at Cannes to enable her to finance her next project, a feature film she is already working on. It's about different people but concerns the same point of view. "It's like you go next door," she says.

Two other Israeli films premiered in Cannes in top competitions. "The Band's Visit," written and directed by Eran Kolirin, is about a small Egyptian police band that comes to Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center's opening but mistakenly finds itself lost overnight in a small, almost forgotten desert town. The film, still seeking distribution, was screened in the Un Certain Regard competition.

Making its international debut in the Official Selection was "Tehilim," by French director Raphael Nadjari. The film, shot in Hebrew, tells the story of an observant Jerusalem family that must cope after an automobile accident in which the father mysteriously disappears.

For student filmmaker Korman, the rooftop bar finally begins serving alcohol and he drinks a beer.

"I am thrilled like a 3-year-old to be here," he says. "Every day I am entering theaters, and I am shaking."

Korman then makes his way back down to the Croisette, putting on his knitted cap as he joins the throngs and heads off to a screening of the French feature, "Dreams of the Night Before."

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