Israeli and Contemporary, With a Side of Violence

The Haifa International Film Festival continues with several worthwhile domestic offerings.

"My taste differs from that of others. I personally chose 'Hofshat kayitz' ('Summer Vacation'), but a majority is a majority," says film director Danny (Nokio) Verete, chairman of the panel of judges that awarded first place in the feature film category to "Tnua meguna" ("Foul Gesture") at the Haifa International Film Festival on Saturday night.

"Everyone lauded David Volach's film (Vacation), but a clear majority ultimately voted for Tzahi Grad's film (Gesture)," Verete added. Serge Sobjinsky, director of the All the Cinemas of the World program, presented annually at the Cannes Film Festival, also sat on the panel of judges. "The level of the other competing films was exceedingly low," Sobjinsky said.

The main character in "Foul Gesture" is Michael Klienhouse (played by Gal Zaid), a former high-tech employee who has left the field to write. After his wife (played by Keren Mor) flips the finger to another driver on the road, he deliberately runs into the open door of the escaping couple's car. When Klienhouse attempts to find the offensive driver, he discovers that the latter is a violent man with connections to the police, and the Klienhouses are drawn into a bloody, vengeful journey.

"Foul Gesture" attracted no lack of criticism in Haifa: "Superfluous use of syrupy symbolism drowns the flimsy, doubtable plot in a presumptuous morass redolent with truly apocalyptic pretension," wrote Meir Shnitzer in Maariv. But despite that, the panel of judges deemed it worthy of a prize. "Grad's film is very Israeli and contemporary," Verta says. "And the violence and belligerence in the film were an important element in the majority's decision to vote for it."

Verta said the decisions to grant Grad first prize in the feature film category and Volach the Taglit Hafestival prize were nearly unanimous.

"It was faithful to the rules of the genre and based on an excellent concept. Tzahi Grad produced a delightful social, political thriller that glues viewers to the screen until its apocalyptic climax," he wrote in the panel's statements in support of the award. According to Sobjinsky, "The films by Grad and Volach represent two very different sides of Israeli filmmaking. Grad's is an action film with a humorous dimension that appeals to a broad audience, while Volach's film is a highly personal, slow and quiet creation."

The panel convened yesterday after the festival closed, and "Foul Gesture" was awarded a cash prize of NIS 120,000. "Summer Vacation," Volach's first full-length film, earned two prizes: Volach won NIS 30,000 for the Taglit Hafestival prize and Boaz Yaakov won an additional NIS 18,000 for cinematography.

The film tells the story of a Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox family. The family includes a father (played by Assi Dayan), a mother (played by Sharon Hacohen Bar) and an only son (played by Ilan Grif) who go to the Dead Sea on their summer vacation. After the mother is sent to the women-only beach and the son goes with his father to another beach, the idyllic family retreat is disrupted and the story is transformed into tragedy that invokes the biblical binding of Isaac. The father's determined, blind faith proves to be dangerous and alarming.