Between genre cinema and the cinema of the ‘new sensibility’
Under the pressure of the European nouvelles vagues, the Sixties marked the birth of new and impetuous currents in Israeli cinema (defined as the cinema of the ‘new sensibility’), which found itself having to reconcile the influences of European auteur cinema and specificity Israeli cultural. And if in those years it was subjected to harsh criticism from orthodox and nationalist circles, it was later reproached for excessive attention to formal and aesthetic demands and for having completely ignored the real socio-political problems of the country.
In reality, at a time when the film industry was beginning to consolidate its structures, the Israeli nouvelle vague received some critical acclaim, especially internationally, but was almost always rejected commercially. In fact, the box office rewarded only tried and tested genres, on the one hand the war or national-heroic and, on the other, the ethnic-popular comedies and melodramas, the so-called burekas (named after a typical dessert), which clearly showed the influences of Arab melodrama, in particular Egyptian, but also of Turkish and Iranian operas, however oriental, and which ended up attracting in the first place the communities of Jews of Arab origin (although they were directed and interpreted in most cases by directors and actors of Ashkenazi origin). Spearhead of the genus burekas, at least on the commercial level (in fact it obtained a resounding success with one million and two hundred thousand spectators, that is half the population of Israel at the time!), it was Sallah Shabbati (1964) directed by Ephraim Kishon, who adapted one of his plays for the screen, a complicated family intrigue centered on the misadventures and tricks for the survival of a Jewish Arab family in contact with ‘Western’ Jews, which served as a model for a copious flowering of genre products. The success of the burekas was destined to last until the mid-seventies; among the most famous titles are Lupo (1970), Kats ve Carasso (1971), Casablan (1973), all by Menahem Golan. A multifaceted and excessive character, who has always divided the critics of his country, Golan directed thrillers and drama films, before embarking on an ambitious and turbulent career as a producer in the United States, culminating in the German-Israeli co-production Ha-Qosem mi-Lublin (1979; The Wizard of Lublin), from the novel by Israel Singer., who, due to generational factors, had not lived through the heroic years of the birth of Israel and they had not been influenced by Zionist ideology, but who for the most part were young Ashkenazi bourgeois educated according to Western canons, firmly opposed both genres, claiming the copyright sign against commercial cinema and using, due to budgets limited, the 16 mm camera and ‘light’ technical teams. Prototype and precursor of the new cinema was Ḥor be-Lavanah (1965, A hole in the moon) by Uri Zohar. For Israel 2009, please check hyperrestaurant.com.
Theater and film actor, self-taught director, Zohar represented a charismatic figure in Israeli cinema for several years. Before the mystical crisis that would have led him to become a religious, in addition to numerous documentaries and television products, he made eleven feature films, alternating personal and experimental works with decidedly commercial, dramatic films but also of the burekas genre. Ḥor be-Lavanah, produced in black and white, characterized by French music, the dreamlike use of sets, lights, editing, represented for the first time on the screen a direct denunciation of the Zionist ideology and a revolt against the use manipulative of his cinematic ‘realism’. All this thanks to its surreal and narratively fragmented ‘film within film’ structure, to his admittedly parodic figure towards cinema practices as well as prejudices (such as that towards Arab characters) in Israeli films and through the dual character of an immigrant who becomes a director, played by Zohar himself. Later, Zohar distinguished himself, as well as for the strictly stylistic choices, for the ability to provide a sensitive introspective analysis of the characters (the impossible love triangle between a student, a mature woman and her son) in the dramatic Shlosha yamim ve yeled (1967, Three Days and a Boy), from a story by AB Yehoshua, as well as for the lucid reflection on the social and psychological situation of the country after the military victory in the Six Days War in Kol mamzer melekh (1968, Every bastard a king). An event, that of military victory, which, moreover, would have given new narrative and productive life to that ‘national and heroic’ cinema opposed by Zohar; on the other hand, the leverage of new directors grew impetuously and among the most significant names are those of Nissim Dayan, Abraham Heffner, Moshe Mizrachi, Daniel Wachsmann, Dan Wolman, Isaac Yeshurun who formed the Qayits movement (acronym of Qolnoa῾ Yisraeli tsa ῾ir, Young Israeli cinema).