Film feast from Israel

SOME of the best new films from Israel will be screened at this year’s Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) Israeli Film Festival, which opens at Palace cinemas around Australia later this month.

There’s plenty of variety in the festival ranging from drama to comedy, documentaries to short films, including several movies that enjoyed success at the recent Cannes Film Festival and testify to the growing strength of Israeli cinema.

AICE chairman Albert Dadon says: “We have been spoiled for choice this year, with Israel producing world-class films which are completely unique, and entirely stunning on so many levels.”

This is the 11th year that the festival has been running and opens with Israeli director Shira Geffen’s award-winning film Self Made about two women – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – who find themselves living life on the other side after a mix-up at the border. Sarah Adler (Restoration, Sweets) stars as Jerusalem artist Michal who falls out of a faulty IKEA bed and bumps her head. She files a complaint which soon leads to the dismissal of Nadine (Samira Saraya), the Arab woman charged with packing the furniture screws.

The two women are brought into contact when a soldier’s brief meltdown at the border brings about a bizarre mix-up of their identities.

Self Made enjoyed success at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it won the Camera d’Or.

The closing night film is The Green Prince, a powerful documentary about a spy and his handler who forge an unexpected friendship.

Mosab Yousef is an angry Palestinian teenager living in Ramallah who is determined to fight against Israel. Arrested for smuggling guns, he’s interrogated by the Shin Bet security service and sent to jail. Shocked by Hamas’s ruthless tactics in prison and the organisation’s escalating campaign of suicide bombings outside, Yousef agrees to spy for Israel.

For his Shin Bet handler, Gonen, there is no greater prize, especially since Yousef is the oldest son of a founding member of Hamas. The Green Prince is directed by Nadav Schirman.

Israeli director Asaf Korman’s striking film Next to Her stars Liron Ben-Shlush as Chelli, an attractive security guard who cares for her younger sister Gabby (Dana Ivgy) in a run-down part of Haifa.

Chelli refuses to let her sister come into contact with anyone, but when love presents itself in the form of a nerdy gym teacher, she is forced to allow the outside world into the bubble they share, leading to dramatic consequences.

The Kindergarten Teacher is the second feature from Israeli writer-director Nadav Lapid (Policeman), which is set around a teacher, Nira (Sarit Larry), who becomes convinced that her five-year-old student Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) is a child prodigy with a talent for poetry.

Award-winning director Eran Riklis (Lemon Tree, The Syrian Bride) tackles the complex relationship between Jews and Arabs in the late 1980s in his new film, The Second Son, an Israeli-German-French co-production.

Leaving his Arab home to attend a prestigious Jewish boarding school, Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) is apprehensive and feels ashamed when among Israeli Jews and drama ensues.

The Ceremony is set around 80-year-old Colonel David Rokni, who is preparing to command the national ceremony on Israel’s Independence Day, just as he has done for the past 30 years.

However, a week before the ceremony, disaster strikes and he has to cope with a dramatic and unfamiliar situation.

Alvaro Brechner’s Mr Kaplan is a black comedy revolving around Jacob Kaplan, a Jewish retiree in Uruguay who is convinced that the shy, old German owner of a local seafront restaurant is a former Nazi.

Kaplan fled Europe for South America during World War II. Now 76, he’s grumpy about his family’s lack of interest in his heritage and recruits a former policeman to help investigate the German shop owner, plotting to kidnap and secretly take him to Israel.

Leading Italian director Roberto Faenza’s moving film Anita B is about life, hope, love and the importance of memory. When Anita, a Hungarian-Jewish girl, emerges alive from Auschwitz after World War II, she is taken in by her only surviving relative, Aunt Monika, to live with her family in a small town near Prague.

However, Anita soon finds that no-one wants to hear about her Holocaust horrors, preferring to forget about the past. Anita soon finds herself involved in a passionate affair and starts to live again.

This year’s festival’s short feature films have been bracketed with documentaries on the same bill.

The Visit will screen with the documentary Shadow in Baghdad to explore the relationship between father and daughter.

The comic documentary Handa Handa 4 and the short Everywhere But Here depict the complications of marriage.

The entertaining short Welcome and Our Condolences is combined with Album 61 to portray a snapshot of the experiences of Russian Jews.

REPORT by Danny Gocs

PHOTO of Sarit Larry as teacher Nira with her five-year-old child prodigy student Yoav (Avi Shnaidman) in The Kindergarten Teacher.

Festival dates

Melbourne
August 20-September 4

Sydney
August 21-September 4

Brisbane
August 20-27

Canberra
August 19-31

Adelaide
August 27-September 4

Perth
August 28-September 7

Byron Bay
August 21-27

Bookings: www.aiceisraelifilmfestival.com.