Israel Cinematography – From the 1980’s to the Beginning of the 21st Century

By | December 22, 2021

Political and Personal Stories

The defeat of the Labor Party in the 1977 elections marked, from 1979, a new government policy of support for quality cinema. As the line of comedy entered into crisis, Israeli cinema favored social and political themes, seen mostly through intimate and personal events. Meanwhile, between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, a young generation of filmmakers emerged who decidedly chose the path of the documentary. Among these, the best known name internationally is that of Amos Gitai with works that testify to the difficult coexistence between Arabs and Israelis, who later revealed himself as one of the most important contemporary filmmakers. Other young documentary makers have made their works known even outside Israel since the 1990s, such as Nurith Aviv,

The invasion of Lebanon (1982) exacerbated tensions with Muslim countries and the internal social crisis. The new political awareness of relations with Arabs pushed Israeli filmmakers to overcome cultural stereotypes by finding attention from audiences and critics outside the country. If D. Wachsmann tackles the issue of land expropriation against the Palestinians with Khamsin (1983, Vento dell’Est), with Me’ahorei Ha-soragim (1984; Beyond bars) Uri Barbash goes beyond the stylistic features of the prison genre, describing, with great intensity and characterization of the characters, the coexistence between Arab political prisoners and Israeli common criminals inside a maximum security prison. The film, of extreme realism but at the same time clear metaphor of the common condition of imprisonment of the two peoples. For Israel 2007, please check extrareference.com.

Since the late 1980s, Israeli cinema has dealt with progressively more challenging and conflicting issues: homosexuality (especially with the works of Amos Gutman, who died prematurely of AIDS in 1993), the link between religion and politics and orthodox fanaticism, as in Ha-Meyu῾ad (1990, Il designato) by D. Wachsmann, the spread of crime and drug trafficking, the escape from Israel, especially towards the United States, and the social and family tensions that ensue, as in Ha-Merhaq (1994, The Distance) by D. Wolman.

But perhaps the most emblematic turning point of this new vision (defined by critics and apocalyptic admirers) is represented by the trilogy that the actor and director Assi Dayan (son of the famous politician and hero of the Six Days War, Moshe Dayan) created in during the nineties. After directing burekas comedies and social satire films for about twenty years, Dayan shot Ha-Ḥayim ῾al-pi Agfa (Life According to Agfa) in 1992, where, in just one night, a Tel Aviv pub called Barbie (like the asylum) becomes the microcosm of an entire city and its evils – loneliness, despair, discrimination and social alienation – through a kaleidoscopic gallery of characters which, in addition to summarizing the history and genres of Israeli cinema, depicts the different faces of contemporary society. The setting of the film, shot in a dark black and white and torn by color only in the final scenes, ironically recalls that of the classic Casablanca (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz: the owner of the piano bar is played here, however, by a woman, the great theater and film star Gila Almagor, whose autobiographical stories were transposed to the screen by Eli Cohen (Ha-Qayts shel Aviya, 1988, Aviya’s Summer, Silver Bear in Berlin, and ῾Ets Ha-Domim Tafus, 1995, Under Domin’s Tree). After Ha-Ḥayim ῾al-pi Agfa A. Dayan directed Smikhah Ḥashmalit u-Shmah Mosheh (1995, The Electric Blanket), a black comedy about the world of drugs and prostitution, and Mar Baum (1997, Mr. Baum), a bitter allegory in which the protagonist, the fifty-year-old Mr. Baum, Collecting the results of his annual check-up from the clinic, he discovers he has only an hour and a half to live, just as long as a film. Attention to both form and content has become a constant in Israeli cinema. Examples are Leneged ῾Einayim Ma῾araviyot (1996, Under the eyes of the West), the debut work by Joseph Picthhadze, freely inspired by the novel by J. Conrad, in which the director, of Georgian origin, tells, with great care of the composition, in a poetic black and white and mixing the genres (the road movie and the metropolitan thriller) and the sets (the ecstatic sequences in the Negev desert), the return in Israel of an architect who emigrated to Berlin who discovers the truth on the father’s past. A film that keenly investigates the dynamics of cultural integration of the different generations of immigrants and analyzes the disorientation of exile and return; themes already present in Qafeh ῾im Limon ((1994, Coffee with lemon) by Leonid Gorovec, which tells of a very successful Jewish actor in Russia who decides to return to Israel with his family, but once he arrives he is faced with the linguistic and cultural misunderstandings, falls into deep frustration, decides to return to Moscow, to his audience, but finds himself in a dead end. Immigration stories, but in an ironic comedy key, and both set in the Russian immigrant community and Georgians, are also at the center of Ha-Ḥaverim shel Yana (1999, Yana’s friends) by Arik Kaplun and Ḥatunah me’uheret (2001; Matrimonio tardivo) first work by Dover Kosashvili, a co-production between France and Israel (presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2001, in the Un certain regard section), starring a thirty-year-old PhD student in philosophy, who is in a relationship with a woman of origin divorced Moroccan and mother of a child; unacceptable situation for his parents who, unaware of everything, continually try to introduce him to untouched girls with whom to marry.

Since the early 1990s, breaking a historic taboo, Israeli female filmmakers – almost always using the most agile support of video and digital – have taken on a crucial role in providing a testimony, through a decidedly feminine point of view, on the tragic human consequences of the conflict with the Palestinians and on the complex ‘identity puzzle’ of Israel and the region. Among them Sini Bar David, who in Ha-Lo gara kan af Pa᾽am (1998, also known as The South: Alice never lived here) traces the memory of the exile of his family of Sephardi origin; Michal Aviad, who with the intense Lev Ha-᾽Aretz (2001, also known as Ramleh) follows the paths, destined not to cross, of four Israeli women of different cultures and religions; Anat Even and Ada Ushpiz with ᾽Asurot (2001, also known as Detained), about the terrible events of three Palestinian widows; and Yifat Keidar who in Le᾽an at nosa᾽at (2001, also known as Between the lines) documents the courageous work of Amira Hass, correspondent of the newspaper “Ha-᾽Aretz” from the Occupied Territories.

At the beginning of the 21st century. Israeli film production averaged around ten films per year. In fact, despite the significant innovations on the creative level, structural problems remain, such as the substantial dependence on state support funds (which are limited), a still very limited audience, linguistic constraints and scarce opportunities for professional development and training. And the overall socio-political framework certainly does not help to formulate optimistic forecasts on future developments.

Israel Cinematography - From the 1980's to the Beginning of the 21st Century