Jewish Journal

Lights, Camera, Israel

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Apr. 4, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Los Angeles will welcome the 18th Annual Israel Film Festival this month, with 31 Israeli feature films, documentaries, TV dramas and student shorts to be screened at Laemmle's Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills and at Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino. The festival continues in Chicago, Miami and New York.

During the April 10 opening night gala at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, actress/director Penny Marshall, producer Mike Medavoy and Israeli director Eli Cohen will be honored for their contributions to the film industry.

A symposium on April 11 on "How Do Current Events in Israel Affect Film and Television Production?" will feature a panel of Israeli and American experts, including Israel's Minister of Science, Culture and Sports Matan Vilnai.

Among the feature selections, the light and lightweight "Desperado Square" takes us to a hardscrabble development town. Its predominantly Sephardi immigrants desperately miss the town's only movie theater, which was closed down nearly three decades earlier, despite the immense popularity of its films from India, with their star-crossed lovers and extravagant song-and-dance production numbers.

Morris, the deceased owner of the theater, shuttered the place in despondency when he learned that his beautiful wife, Siniora (Yona Elian), really loved his brother, Avram (played by Muhammad Bakri, Israel's leading Arab actor).

As the film opens, the estranged Avram has returned after a 25-year absence and begins a low-key pursuit of Siniora. Meanwhile Morris' sons, with the help of the town's quaint residents, try to resurrect the movie palace for a showing of the love-triangle themed "Sangam," the neighborhood's favorite film, much to the agitation of Siniora because Avram owns the only copy.

Nobody will mistake this variation on the eternal triangle, directed by Benny Torati, as high art, but the film, by its setting in a development town, focuses on one aspect of Israeli life rarely seen in feature movies.

"It's About Time" is an hour-long documentary, which in a humorous and unassuming way tells us a great deal about today's Israelis by probing their attitudes toward the concept of time.

Talking to a cross section of Israelis, the film contrasts the nostalgic past, when "we had time and seasons," to the obsessive listening of newscasts every half hour in today's "microwave generation -- we want it cooked right now."

Directors Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel trace their country's frantic pace back to the beginning, when "the state was born in a hurry, we rushed through the process."

"More happens here in a week than in Switzerland in a year," notes one respondent, and another skewers the infamous "Israeli time" by noting that "we set an event for 2:00, come at 2:30 and think we've arrived early."

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