Israeli Cinema in Four Words: Goodbye Occupation, Hello Zombies

Local cinema emerges from its depression and uses violence of the healthy type.

Neta Alexander
Neta Alexander
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Dismemberment, torture, abduction, cannibalism and rivers of blood are not commonly found in Israeli cinema. Images centering on violence and shots of body parts have appeared mainly in war films, and even then the violence was relatively sterile − the kind that sees the enemy through a gunsight. But a series of new Israeli films suggests this trend is about to change. After comparatively low-budget productions like “Rabies” and “Cats on a Pedal Boat” showed the way, movies like Eitan Gafni’s “Cannon Fodder,” Aharon Keshales and  Navot Papushado’s “Big Bad Wolves” and Tom Shoval’s “Youth” are showing that young Israeli cinema has discovered violence and is not afraid to make use of it.

The three new movies, to be released in Israel in the coming months, are genre films that draw their inspiration from American cinema (in the case of zombie movie “Cannon Fodder”) or from South Korea (in the case of torture thriller “Big Bad Wolves”).

All contain scenes of brutal violence. Keshales and Papushado go the furthest in this vein. They have made the first Israeli film that belongs to the splatter genre, which includes box office franchises such as “Hostel” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” These films are known for their torture scenes and close-ups of bleeding human organs.

There is a tendency in the United States to associate the success of the gore films with a rising stimulation level for adolescents. The movies’ huge commercial success is therefore perceived as a problematic, even negative cultural phenomenon. In Israel, though, the use of violence in nonwar contexts is a welcome cultural element. It attests to the maturation of the local industry, which until now has limited itself to a small number of plot genres (mainly family dramas and war movies). An abduction film such as “Youth” or zombie flick like “Cannon Fodder” indicate that young filmmakers are looking for more creative ways to express their ideas.

Although the three films are completely different from one another, taken together they show that violence in contemporary local cinema carries a saliently political dimension, even if the word “occupation” does not appear in any of the screenplays.

Despite the differences, the subtext is identical: the ongoing violence of the conflict is seeping into every sphere of life and making Israeli society inherently violent. This is a society in which 18 year olds take their weapons home (like one of the protagonists in “Youth”), soldiers are sent on suicide missions (like the unit in “Cannon Fodder”) and no few people hide bodies in the cellar (as in “Big Bad Wolves”).

So, even if the inspiration is American or Asian, the content is totally Israeli and proves that the occupation may corrupt − but also provides inspiration for excellent films.

“Big Bad Wolves” directors Aharon Keshales (left) and Navot Papushado (right), flanking actor Lior Ashkenazi.