Israeli films have been nominated for the best foreign language Academy Award,
which is not bad for a small, relatively young country, living with the
constant threat of terrorism. While Israeli
filmmakers have yet to take home the Oscar, they have become the toast of
international festival circuit. The development
of their national cinema is chronicled and analyzed in Raphaël Nadjari’s two
hundred nine minute documentary undertaking, A History of Israeli Cinema (trailer here), now available on
DVD from Kino Lorber.
during the final days of 1932, Chanukah in fact, Chaim Halachmi’s Oded the Wanderer is considered the
first Israeli feature, well predating UN recognition. Focusing on the ruggedness of nature and the even
more rugged protagonist, it became a model for the Zionist-minded cinema that
would follow. Ironically, one of the
films the most effectively swaying world opinion Israel’s way was the product
of Hollywood liberals: Otto Preminger’s Exodus,
starring Paul Newman. In contrast, the subsequent
wave of Israeli films would challenge notions of Zionism to varying degrees.
the most popular new movement were the so-called Bourekas films, ethnic melting
pot comedies named after the savory Eastern European pastry (which you can find
in New York at Café Noi). At times, the
humor ranged towards the broader end of the spectrum, but they presented more
diverse, less severely stoic characters for audiences to identify with.
course, Israeli filmmaking continued to evolve, largely reflecting the same
cultural shifts apparent in Western cinema.
The “New Sensitivity” school incorporated Cassavetes like intimacy with the
avant-garde sensibilities of European art cinema. As the 1960’s became the 1970’s, films became
more overtly political, directly questioning the traditional Zionism of the
1930’s and championing the indigenous and former Arab populations’ claims for
exceptional victim status.
is a frustrating fact of life for Israel’s international supporters that the
democratic state’s home grown films are often as critical as those coming from
Hollywood and its hostile neighbors, which is indeed reflected in Nadjari’s History.
Nonetheless, the lack of love for Menahem Golan’s zeitgeist-bucking Operation Thunderbolt is an unfortunate omission. Golan appears quite frequently as an
interview subject, mostly in reference to the early Bourekas films he
produced. Nadjari never explores his
American interlude as half of the Golan-Globus running Cannon Films, bringing
to the world the American Ninja franchise
amongst other meathead classics.
Technically speaking, they are not Israeli films, but who wouldn’t want
to show clips of Steve James and Michael Dudikoff slicing through hordes of ninjas
like straw men?
Nadjari has a bias towards art films, but so will most of the viewers seeking
it out. He has a shrewd eye for
selecting illustrative clips and shows the patience to let them play out
sufficiently. Even though he shows the
very end of Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer,
considered the first feature film officially produced in the new state of
Israel, it will definitely make war movie buffs want to see the whole thing
from the beginning. He talks to just
about every filmmaker of stature, including Joseph Cedar (helmer of Footnote), Amos Gitai, Ronit Elkaetz
(who also co-starred in Eran Kolirin’s Oscar disqualified The Band’s Visit), and Dover Kosahvili. Being good marketers, Kino also includes
trailers for their other Israeli films, which feels more like a DVD extra in
this case than merely an attempt to plus-sell.
Recommended for patrons of Israeli culture and armchair film historians,
A History of Israeli Cinema is now
available as a two-disk set from Kino Lorber.
Labels: Documentary, DVD, Israeli Cinema, Menahem Golan