Crossing Borders: New Israeli Cinema

Ian Haydn Smith
Thursday at the Movies Promising Start to A Film-Filled Weekend

Politics infuses so much Israeli cinema. There's the 'Big' politics that is frequent discussion both within and outside the country's borders: the relationship with Palestine, the debates over land ownership, the country's relations with its neighbours and the role it plays on the international stage. There is extremism on all sides and the middle ground often finds its voice lost amongst the cacophony of opinions - rarely aired in a calm voice. But there's also the politics of the everyday. Or what Krzysztof Kieślowski would refer to as the politics of living one's life. The films screening in the festival's New Israeli Cinema strand frequently traverse many of these themes, but the power of these films - the power of film universally - is to be able to transcend the shouting and the grand narratives, and to hone in on the stories of individuals and to accepts that each one is unique. Moreover, the best films can highlight what many of us, from all walks of life, have in common more than the things that set us apart. We've seen this so far in Dina Perlstein's Watch Over Her, about a press photographer uncovering her own truths in the midst of the Syrian conflict; in Avishai Sivan's affecting Tikkun, about life inside the country's Hassidic community, and in Rama Burshtein's often hilarious Through the Wall, which details the travails of characters about to be married.

The contrast between secular Israel and its orthodox community offers a fascinating insight into contemporary Israeli society and is explored with intelligence and compassion by Eitan Anner with A Quiet Heart. For others, the country's conscription laws weigh heavily on their minds, whether they're the youngsters in Yaniv Berman's Land of the Little People or a man coming to terms with his country's military operations in Daniel Mann's Low Tide.

A different community lies at the heart of Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between. It explores the lives of three Palestinian women living in one apartment in Tel Aviv. Cultural difference is an issue for them, but there's also their contrasting personal lives. In Scaffolding, Matan Yair drew on his own experiences to tell the story of the friendship between a teenager and his literature teacher (in the tradition of New Iranian Cinema Asher Lax plays himself, the young student inspired by Yair).

It's not too difficult to see the symbolism in Hagar Ben-Asher's The Burglar, about a young woman whose apartment is broken into and decides to break into the apartments of others. While in Avi Nesher's 1970s West Germany-set Past Life, the horrors of the war return to haunt two siblings who want to find out their parents past experiences.

If Tomer Haymann's Mr. Gaga appears to be something of a contrast with the other films in the programme - a documentary about the celebrated artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company - it's all-encompassing portrait of its subject, crossing personal, cultural and political lines, seems in keeping with these films and the current trend of Israeli cinema as a whole.

Ian Haydn Smith

Ian Haydn Smith is a British writer and editor. Formerly the editor of the International Film Guide, he is the co-author of New British Cinema and author of the forthcoming The Story of Photography. He has attended New Horizons since 2008.

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