Film festivals, after all, by their very definition, are eclectic, uneven affairs, and this one is no exception. But, taken as a whole, it's a welcome and provocative cultural import from a country that doesn't lack for complexity and contradictions.
As in years past, the festival highlights are those films that dig deepest into the identity conflicts and cultural quirks that define the country itself. Whether it be a look at how the rigid social mores of a tightly knit Orthodox community affect one of it's female members, or the dilemma faced by a middle-aged Palestinian man who must decide whether to sell his last family plot of land in order to make way for Israeli developers, the movies that hold our attention most closely are those which allow us into specific, evocative places we may otherwise not be able to go. Once we're there, we often recognize parts of ourselves in the bargain.
By contrast, the formulaic thrillers and generic romantic comedies that are included here seem derivative and, ultimately, forgettable. We've seen this stuff at our local multiplex before, and with far better production values.
Along with the features, there are documentaries presented here that plunge directly into the prickly stuff of contemporary Israeli society. An emerging Sephardic feminism, the tension between religiosity and secularism as played out inside one family, and the final public and private moments of Yitzhak Rabin are all topics given a serious look on the documentary slate.
Some feature highlights from this year's festival:
* "Mr. Baum" (80 minutes) The third film in a trilogy directed by Assi Dayan, a well-known actor in Israel and the son of the late Moshe Dayan. Through its title character, Mr. Baum poses the age old-question: If you had only a brief time left to live, what would you do? In this case, Mr. Baum has but a mere 92 minutes, which provoke his banal journey through this uneven but macabre comedy. Winner of the 1997 Israeli Academy Award for Best Picture.