Israel

Jerusalem Film Festival 2014

For the last week, I’ve been sitting in a darkened room watching movies with 200 of my newest friends while people were dying in air strikes only a few dozen miles away. It’s silly, shameful really to think of it in those terms. But even recognizing how frivolous it is, there was still a lot more going on in those darkened rooms than mere escapist entertainment. The directors of the Jerusalem Film Festival made sure of that, creating a line up that — aside from its currently explosive context — allowed for moral challenges and thoughts to simmer inside the theater and out. The Israeli film experience differs greatly from the Hollywood experience. Far from candy colored cultural exportation, budget and facility restraints push the Israeli film community to use the visual medium mostly for pure expression, a way of contemplating the issues that face not only Israel, but the whole of the Middle East and also much of the world. And isn’t that one of the best reasons to pursue art in the first place? Art exists in large capacity – and certainly this experience demonstrates that cinema is one of Israel’s emerging art markets – to help a culture work through its problems. I saw quite a few films at the Jerusalem Film Festival, though sadly only a fraction of what was playing. For the most part, I focused on the Israeli films, partly because it seems counterproductive to spend my time sweating to get to movies that are already scheduled to be released On Demand in less than a […]

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review big bad wolves

Editor’s note: Our review of Big Bad Wolves originally ran during this year’s Stanley Film Fest, but we’re re-running it now as it plays Fantastic Fest. After Israel’s first horror film, Rabies, was released in 2011 to critical acclaim you would have expected the floodgates to open as other filmmakers followed suit. But it never happened. Instead, it’s taken two years for the next incredibly dark thriller to escape the country, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s from the same writer-director pair. Young girls are being abducted, violated and murdered, and while a puzzled police force searches for evidence one morally muddy cop has run out of patience. He takes the law into his own hands after they discover the latest victim beheaded and assaulted, but his actions lead to his dismissal. The dead girl’s father makes his own move resulting in the main suspect being bound and gagged in the grieving man’s basement … with a table nearby covered in various tools of torture. What Israel’s two-man genre-film industry lacks in quantity it more than makes up for with quality, and Big Bad Wolves ups their game from their already quite good debut considerably. It’s dark, wonderfully twisted and laugh out loud funny … but it might just leave you questioning exactly why you enjoyed it so much. And you will enjoy it.

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review inch allah

We follow a woman wearing a backpack through a crowded street. Kids play around her, diners laugh and eat at a cafe, and a caged pigeon stares blankly at a little boy’s smiling face. And then the world explodes. Chloé (Evelyne Brochu) is a Canadian doctor straddling the Israeli/Palestinian border both in her daily activities and in her sympathies. She lives in Israel but works in a clinic on the other side of the concrete wall in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. In addition to the day job she’s taken on private nurse duties for a young, pregnant woman named Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) whose husband awaits sentencing from an Israeli judge. Chloé is equally friendly with Ava (Sivan Levy), a female soldier who lives one floor below her. They share the ride to work every day with Ava stopping at the border while Chloé continues past it. The film follows Chloé’s day to day experiences in a world where the cycle of violence is never-ending, and all the club-hopping, drinks with friends, and late night calls home to her mother in Canada can’t change that. She’s witness to the carnage left behind by terrorist bombings and the human rights violations, violent inspections and casual death that come as retribution, and like everyone else there’s not a damn thing she can do about any of it.

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trailer big bad wolves english

One of my favorite films out of this year’s Stanley Film Fest was the sophomore effort from the darkly dynamic Israeli duo behind 2010′s Rabies. Co-directors/writers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have followed up that bloody black comedy with the cruelly entertaining revenge thriller Big Bad Wolves, and after a couple months of it racking up awards and praise around the globe we’ve finally gotten the first English-subtitled trailer. The film follows a corrupt police detective and a grieving father who join forces to bring justice to the prime suspect in a string of vicious murders of pre-teen girls. What follows is a perfectly woven mix of tension, laughs and suffering. You’ll get to experience this twisted fairy tale for yourself later this year when Magnet releases it into theaters, but for now take a look at this gorgeous trailer below.

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A little over a year after jailing and banning their most famous filmmaker from making movies, Iran might win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It would be a first for the nation whose government seems to strongly dislike creativity and freedom of speech, but its entry this year, A Separation, almost seems like a sure thing. Come February, writer/director Asghar Farhadi and Iran might be standing on the winner’s podium. But it’s not a done deal yet. A Separation and 8 other films were announced last week as part of the Oscar shortlist – just one step away from becoming an official nominee. They include a Danish comedy set in Argentina, a masculine drama about the underground world of illegal bovine growth hormones in Belgium, and something marvelous from Wim Wenders. It’s, to say the least, a varied group. Except that almost all of them are dramas from writer/directors.  So, yeah. Subject matter-wise though, it’s a full spectrum. The final 5 will be announced tomorrow morning, but here first are the trailers from each of the 9 shortlisted movies from far off lands (like Canada):

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Genre films follow a certain set of rules, and that’s rarely more evident than it is with slashers. If four young people go into the woods where a madman has already captured one young woman it’s almost certain these reckless young people will have sex and then be picked off by the killer until only the virgin remains. The kindly park ranger and hard-ass cops who stumble onto the scene will also fall victim to his murderous rampage. And the final shot will most likely be a jump-scare letting us know that the psycho has survived and may return for a sequel. But Israel, it appears, is not fond of following rules. Rabies is a new Israeli horror film (maybe the first), but while the setup feels familiar the resulting chaos that follows owes more to an episode of Three’s Company than it does to the slasher film genre.

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Culture Warrior

I often find that, as a devotee to cinema and little else, I understand history through cinema. After all, cinema can take me to places I’ve never been and times I never lived with a particular sensory gestalt that’s simply not quite the same in other art forms. This is not to say that I make the mistake of substituting cinema for history, or treat cinema the same way I would treat a credible historical annal. But cinema, especially narrative fiction, has a fascinating capacity to represent subjective experiences and particular perspectives of history. By considering history through its cinematic representation, we may not become authorities of chronology, but rather understand emotions and experiences associated with lived events. Few movies claim to be comprehensive authorities of historical representation through cinema (and yes, selection, while problematic is essential for historical writing as well, but cinema simply provides yet another layer of artifice). Some films are canonized as such (anything from Saving Private Ryan to Ken Burns’s documentaries), but even as these are incomplete historiographies, they are in a sense “complete” biographies of thought, reflection, interpretation, and emotion.

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amreeka-header

‘Amreeka,’ a hit at this year’s Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, tells a warmhearted, recognizable story about a family of Palestinian immigrants that smartly resists the urge to preach or turn political.

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Waltz with Bashir

Waltz With Bashir opens on an animated, rain-soaked street to the sounds of growling. What follows is a real-life documentary and quest for answers.

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