Who’s Afraid of 'Big Bad Wolves’?

The whole world thinks the new Israeli film 'Big Bad Wolves' is a groundbreaking achievement, but the local film academy apparently prefers lighter fare.

“Big Bad Wolves,” the newly released second film (after “Rabies”) by Israeli directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, has been nominated for no fewer than 11 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalents of the Oscars. The categories in which it has been nominated include script, direction, soundtrack, editing, cinematography, art design and more. The awards will be made on September 28. However, despite this impressive achievement, the film has not been nominated in the best picture category, and therefore will not be able to represent Israel at the 2014 Oscars ceremony in the best foreign-language picture category. (The five films nominated for an Ophir in the best picture category are: “Hunting Elephants,” “Magic Men,” “Six Acts,” “Bethlehem” and “Sukaryot.”)

Naturally, quite a few other movies were also not included in the best picture category. However, the case of “Big Bad Wolves” is particularly regrettable, because it has been the most talked-about locally made film in the world over the past year. After being screened at highly regarded festivals, such as Tribeca in New York, FrightFest in London and Fantasia in Montreal, it has received numberless glowing reviews and has an average rating of about 7.3 on IMDb, the international movie database. (By comparison, the American horror movie “The Conjuring,” a tremendous box office hit that was warmly embraced by the critics, has a 7.8 rating; the difference between the number of viewers rating the two films is tremendous, however). In the meantime, Keshales and Papushado have been invited to take part in “The ABCs of Death,” a prestigious horror film anthology.

To understand why viewers and critics are raving about an Israeli horror movie that contains scenes of torture and a nail-biting hunt for a pedophile who decapitates girls, it’s worth reading the statement of the jury at the Fantasia Festival, which gave it the best film award: “With elements of horror, crime thriller, revenge drama, and wicked black comedy, ‘Big Bad Wolves’ takes genre-bending to bold new levels. This sense of originality, along with its subversive political subtext, assured visual style, and impeccable ensemble cast, is what separates the film from the rest of the pack.”

In other words, the international critics who viewed the film saw in it something very different from what’s usually termed “Israeli cinema.” In contrast, the members of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television preferred more easily digestible movies, such as Reshef Levi’s comedy “Hunting Elephants,” or Joseph Pitchhadze’s “Sukaryot.” This sharp gap between foreign critical discourse and the Ophir nominees for best picture is unfortunate. It only augments the ongoing divide between the Ophirs and local viewers, who don’t get to see most of the nominated films before the awards ceremony.

“Big Bad Wolves” doesn’t need an Oscar nomination to win fans. But the local film academy needed it in order to prove that its members are capable of recognizing a distinctive, impressive cinematic language. Regrettably, their choices show that they are afraid to venture into unfamiliar territory.