“Lost Islands,” which will kick off the Israel Film Festival at its June 3 opening gala, begins with Avraham Levi demonstrating his concept of family loyalty to his wife and five sons.
“The individual is like a finger,” he explains, holding up one finger, “and can be easily fractured. But joined together and clenched into a fist, nobody can break the family.”
The lower-middle-class Levi family lives in Kfar Saba, a small town northeast of Tel Aviv. The time is the early 1980s, and the father’s precept is about to be tested.
Two of the boys, Ofer and Erez, are fraternal twins who differ sharply in looks and temperament. Ofer is darker skinned, reflecting his father’s North African background. He is outgoing, athletic and dreams of joining an elite combat unit.
Erez takes more after his Ashkenazi mother, is less macho and more reflective.
The two are crazy about imported pop culture and know all the songs and lyrics from “Hair.” Their favorite show, though, is a seafaring Australian TV series called, “Lost Islands,” all the rage in Israel.
(It brought non-nostalgic tears to this writer’s eyes to watch the lads try to bring their TV picture into focus by fiddling with the rabbit ears atop their set.)
Ofer and Erez have a buddy named Boaz, who goes by the unlikely nickname “Savta” (grandma). The three think and talk about the same subject as 17-year-olds everywhere — namely sex, making up in bravado what they lack in firsthand experience.
Into this male semiparadise wriggles the lovely Neta, the daughter of a diplomat who has lived in Iran and the United States and is more worldly wise and experienced than the boys.
Both Ofer and Erez instantly fall in love with her, but by the twins’ working rule, “Whoever claims something first gets to keep it,” the quicker Ofer has priority in making the first pitch.
The initial part of “Lost Islands” could pass for any funny American teenage movie of that era. For instance, oldest brother David tells the assembled family that he plans to propose to his girlfriend, and he does so by phone with everyone else offering a running commentary.
But events outside tell us that we’re not in Kansas. The mother announces firmly that (Prime Minister Menachem) Begin must never give the Sinai back to Egypt, and the family cheers when the radio announces the Israeli air raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor.
There is also a personal tragedy — when the father is severely injured in a car accident, and with the outbreak of the first Lebanon War, the twins face military service.
With growing personal and national pressures, the bonds of family loyalty are tested, and the question becomes whether they will break or only bend.
“Lost Islands” was the biggest Israeli box office hit last year and was nominated for more Ophir Awards, Israel’s version of the Oscar, than any other entry.
Much of the credit for this popularity goes to an excellent cast, with outstanding performances by Shmil Ben-Ari and Orly Silbersatz Banai as the parents.
Following not far behind are lead actors Michael Moshonov as the sensitive Erez; Oshri Cohen, memorable as the platoon leader in “Beaufort,” as the macho Ofer; and Yuval Scharf as Neta.
The man most responsible, though, is director and co-writer Reshef Levy, known best in his country as a popular standup comic, satirist, television writer and playwright.
In a phone interview, the 37-year-old Levy said that “Lost Islands” draws heavily on his own youth, including shooting the film in his native Kfar Saba, where he still lives.
The real Levy family also closely resembled the movie’s Levi clan, with a Yemenite father, Polish mother and six siblings.
In an astute observation, the director said that the first Lebanon War had an impact on Israeli society not unlike the Vietnam War on the United States.
“We turned into a more troubled country, in which the issues were no longer black and white, in which we were not always right and the others always wrong,” Levy said. “We came to understand the limits of force and the futility of war.”
But Levy considers “Lost Islands” mainly about family life, “which is funny and sad, and good things may be followed by catastrophes.”
That perception may explain Levy’s admiration for Woody Allen, followed closely by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
Between his plays, TV series, movies and live performances, Levy is a highly prolific artist who “works fast and then sweats over every word.”
His motivation for that hard work is obvious. He and his wife have six children, ranging from 18 months to 11 years, and “I have to keep feeding all those mouths.”