Limor Livnat
Culture Minister Limor Livnat. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has asked Israel Film Council Chairman Nissim Abouloff to hold off on a decision to restrict the award-winning Israeli film "Hashoter" ("The Policeman" ) to viewers 18 and above, the ministry said Tuesday.

The film, written and directed by Nadav Lapid, has thus received the most restrictive rating. It has won the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival and three awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

It's not clear how the council reached its decision, since the movie does not contain violence or sexually explicit scenes. The decision was handed down last week, without an explanation backing up the ruling.

"This is an absurd decision and the censorship is political," Lapid said.

The Israel Film Council, which falls under the Culture and Sports Ministry, was once also responsible for imposing age restrictions on plays as well, but this practice ended in the early 1990s.

The council's decisions are not based on clear criteria or permanent rules; this apparently led Livnat, when she took office in 2009, to seek to stop the council's work in its present form.

According to the culture minister's media adviser, the council has held a number of meetings on the film. Another meeting has been scheduled for next week to study whether to disband the council or set clear criteria for its decisions. "This was a pledge the minister made when she came into office, and she intends to keep it," Livnat's office said.

According to the rules, the council can restrict a film for viewing by anyone 18 or above if it contains extreme violence or pornography, or if it offends public sensibilities. "Hashoter," Lapid's debut feature film as a director, tells the story of a young policeman in an elite antiterror unit who is about to become a father.

A second plot tells the story of a group of young people from Tel Aviv who are radical, violent and revolutionary. They decide to fight against the extreme economic gaps in Israeli society. As part of a demonstration against an Israeli tycoon, they plan to abduct a group of wealthy businessmen.

Lapid said the council's decision represents "the highest form of censorship that can be handed down. Eighteen-year-olds in Israel are able to go into the army, engage in combat, kill and be killed, as well as vote in elections. Israeli girls and boys of 16 are able to visit Poland and deal with scenes of the concentration camps, on trips organized by the Education Ministry. But the critical view of life in Israel as portrayed by 'Hashoter,' its wrestling with the regime and the wealthy, its view of the place of a policeman, a combatant, apparently constitutes a threat to the censorship people."

The film's producer, Itai Tamir, added: "Anyone for whom freedom of speech in Israel is important should be alarmed by the lightness with which the censorship officials decide which viewpoints are worthy to appear on the screen in front of everyone and which are not appropriate."

Abouloff did not comment on the decision. The Culture and Sports Ministry said the film debuted last month during the feature-film competition at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Its three awards were for script, cinematography (by Shai Goldman ), and first/second feature film by an Israeli director, won along with Hadar Friedlich for "Beautiful Valley." But Lapid and Tamir refused to accept the third award to protest the way the festival's management dealt with alleged conflict-of-interest problems among jury members.

During the Locarno festival, "Hashoter" received mostly favorable reviews in the international press. In media interviews, press conferences and conversations with the audience after screenings, the connection between Israel's social protest movement and the movie's plot was discussed.