It’s springtime in Los Angeles, which means raising the curtain on the 26th Israel Film Festival, this year displaying a colorful palette of more than 30 feature movies, documentaries, TV shows and student shorts.
The March 15 opening-night venue is the main theater on the Paramount studios lot, where celebrities, honorees and film buffs will view the award-winning feature “Restoration.”
Subsequent films will be shown through March 29 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Fallbrook 7 in the San Fernando Valley.
“Restoration” is a tightly focused film, both in its examination of family relationships and its setting in a rapidly disappearing south Tel Aviv of old-time craftsmen in shabby shops.
Yaakov Fidelman (Sasson Gabay), his face permanently etched by a deep frown and three-day beard stubble, has been restoring antique furniture in his little store for decades, while his partner, Max, runs the business end of the operation.
When Max dies suddenly, apparently from over-exertion with a neighborhood prostitute, Fidelman discovers that the shop is in deep debt.
He starts waging a desperate and futile fight to obtain a bank loan, and then against his lawyer son Noah (Nevo Kimchi), who wants to tear down the shop and erect an apartment building on the property.
At this point, a mysterious young man, Anton (Henry David), shows up and is hired as a helper by Fidelman.
Things look up when Anton discovers in the cluttered shop an 1884 Steinway grand piano, worth a fortune if it can be restored properly.
On the other hand, the scene darkens as Anton falls in love with Noah’s pregnant wife, Hava (Sarah Adler), and she with him.
The film owes its emotional veracity mainly to veteran actor Gabay’s affecting portrayal of Fidelman, and to the unhurried, well-paced direction of Yossi Madmoni, a versatile director, writer, actor, producer and editor, who has worked mainly in the TV medium.
There are some interesting similarities between Madmoni and his “Restoration” and Joseph Cedar, director of “Footnote,” Israel’s 2011 Oscar entry.
Both men are in their early 40s, grew up in deeply religious homes, and in their respective films this year have forgone broad themes of war, ethnic divisions and deep social divisions to focus instead on intimate family confrontations.
Speaking from his home in Tel Aviv, Madmoni was asked about a possible shift by Israeli filmmakers toward smaller, personalized movies, perhaps reflecting a growing preoccupation by Israelis with personal, rather than national, problems.
“It’s too early to define a trend,” he replied. “Even our war and social films tend to be personalized … and I do see a widening gap between the Israeli public and its leaders.”
In Hebrew, the film’s title is “Boker Tov, Adon Fidelman” (Good Morning, Mr. Fidelman), but that sounded too much like a comedy, Madmoni was told by the Sundance Film Festival, which conferred its screenwriting award on Erez Kaf-El for “Restoration.”
Earlier, the film was nominated for 11 Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Also on the festival’s screening schedule are “My Lovely Sister,” a triple love story within a poor Moroccan-Jewish family; “My Australia,” a look at the struggles of a Jewish family in Poland during the 1960s; “Man Without a Cell Phone,” starring an Israeli-Arab slacker; and “2 Night,” about a guy and a girl “looking for the impossible” — a parking space in Tel Aviv.
Documentary titles include the well-received “Dolphin Boy” and “When Israel Went Out,” chronicling the arduous journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Additional presentations are “Viva España,” on the life of Israeli singer Hannah Aharoni, and “Schund,” a mock documentary on the Yiddish theater.
Honorees at the March 15 opening night will include actor Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), David Nevins, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks Inc and producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa for the Showtime television drama “Homeland,” based on an Israeli hit show.
“Footnote” will open at Laemmle theaters in West Los Angeles, Pasadena, Encino and West Hills between March 16-30, leading Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of Israfest Foundation Inc. and the Israel Film Festival, to observe that “outside of Israel itself, never before have there been so many Israeli films playing at one time in so many theaters.”
Tickets can be purchased online at www.IsraelFilmFestival.com or at Laemmle theater box offices. For information, call (877) 966-5566.