Michael Etherton, chief executive of the UK Jewish Film Festival takes a look at some of this year’s offerings from Israel at France that opened at Cannes 2016

Film: Personal Affairs
Director: Maha Haj
Israel, 2016, 90 mins
Language: Arabic with English subtitles

Reassuring to see that the Israel Film Fund is maintaining its independence, in this case supporting an entirely Arab-language film from first-time director Maha Haj. This is touching and gently comic family drama that centres on the lives of a Palestinian family in Nazareth and Ramallah.

Saleh and Nabella, an ageing couple, are growing apart much to the bewilderment and frustration of Saleh. Their children have fled the stifling atmosphere of home, one leaving for Sweden, where he appears to lead a rather lonely life, the other to Ramallah, where he is desperately hanging on to his singledom, afraid of commitment to the stunning and eminently eligible young teacher, Maysa. Director Haj has pulled together a cast of fabulous first-time actors, except for the experienced professional actress, Abd Elhadi, whose assertive and clever Maysa brings a spicy edge to the film. When brother-in-law Amer is offered an audition in Haifa, the story builds to a well-handled and moving climax, which touches on the Israeli-Palestinian political context with unexpected sensitivity and poignancy.

The film is one of two from Israel to be selected for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, a fantastic accomplishment for Israeli cinema and for this director, who is certainly one to watch.

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Personal Affairs

Film: Beyond the Mountains and Hills
Director:  Eran Kolirin
Israel, 2016, 100 mins

After Eran Kolirin’s break-out hit ’The Band’s Visit’ he returns to Cannes’ ‘Un Certain Regard’ section with an ambitious and intelligent new feature about a family in crisis. Lieutenant-Colonel David Greenbaum is discharged after serving for 27 years, returning to his family who are more used to his absence than his presence. Alon Pdut convinces with an understated performance as a macho ex-army family man, quietly in break-down, facing an unforgiving and competitive start-up culture where he struggles to find work and dignity as a salesman.

His daughter, meanwhile, is secretly involved in anti-occupation demonstrations, his teenage son is appallingly behaved, and his wife, a secondary school teacher, feels her own more intellectual interests are at odds with those of her husband. Against this backdrop Kolirin opts for a series of surprising coincidences that strain the credibility of the narrative but also push the drama into a more unexpected and original trajectory, providing a broader political commentary and context to the story.

The line-up of plot lines would certainly provide sufficient material for a multi-part TV drama but, constrained by the time scale of a feature film, Kolirin rushes to close these off with uneven degrees of success. Nevertheless an accomplished and impressive film from one of Israel’s leading young directors.

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Beyond the Mountains and Hills

 

Film: From the Diary of a Wedding Photographer
Director: Nadav Lapid
Israel, 2016, 40 mins

Nadav Lapid, director of last year’s hypnotic and disturbing Israeli drama ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’ brings us another highly original new long-short film that draws on his recent past. To fund his way through film school Lapid filmed weddings in his spare time – three hundred in only two years. Of this experience he commented recently “how can one not feel jealous of the happiness .. on the screen.

Without any mediation. Without circumspection or shades. Marriages are the celebration of love between the newly weds, and the celebration of the photographer’s love for the bride. A secret and banned love (she marries another), but also authorised and desired (people want the bride to be the most beautiful woman in the world).” Ohad Knoller (Yossi, Yossi & Jagger, Srugim) plays a talented wedding photographer who uses highly unusual methods to achieve his much acclaimed shots of couples at their most natural and loving.

However, his success at tapping into the truth of the emotional bonds between each couples sparks unexpected feelings and revelations, taking this film is some totally unexpected directions. The film – strange with its wild and lonely cinematography set against the backdrop of the desert and the sparkling Mediterranean – is in competition in the Critics Week at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

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Film: Fanny’s Journey
Director: Lola Doillon
France, 2016, 98 mins
Cast: Cecile de France

In Lola Doillon’s pacey new wartime survival story the main protagonist and rescuer of a group of young Jewish children, is herself a young teenage girl. This is the extraordinary premise of ‘Fanny’s Journey’, inspired by a true story and based on the book ’The Journey of Fanny Ben Ami’. Doillon’s lavish-feeling production, with a superb cast led by Cecile de France in the role of strict but wise children’s home governess Mrs Forman, helps raise this compelling story well above the level of other more mundane wartime movies.

The star of the film, however, is the young actress, Léonie Souchaud, who excels in the role of a young girl inspired by her governess to find within herself the resources and strength of character to take responsibility for a group of Jewish children in great danger. At its best the narrative cracks along at a great pace and bristles with suspense. Despite some occasional false notes of sentimentality, which this skilful cast of kids really don’t need to endear themselves to the audience, this is a powerful and well-told transformative tale, worth bringing to a wider audience.

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