Six full-length Israeli movies (five feature films and one documentary) will be screened at the 67th Cannes Film Festival which opened Wednesday. The movies are not competing in any of the official categories − yet this is an unprecedented and impressive local crop.
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The list includes Keren Yedaya’s “Away from his Absence” which will be screened in the “Particular Outlook” (Un Certain Regard) section of the festival, the most prestigious competitive section that accompanies the official one.
“The Kindergarten Teacher” by Nadav Lapid and Shira Geffen’s “Self-Made” will be shown at a special screening as part of the Critics’ Week section. Asaf Korman’s “Next to Her” and Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” will be screened as part of the Directors’ Fortnight category. The documentary “Go-Go Boys”, directed by Hilla Medalia, which deals with Cannon Films, a company run by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, will also be shown at the festival. The film “The Visit” by Inbar Horesh, a graduate of the Minshar School of Art in Tel Aviv, will be shown in the Cinefondation category for films made by students.
Watching these movies and observing people’s reactions to them will definitely be one of the interesting aspects of attending the festival. However, the formal competitions are still the mainstay of Cannes, and the prestigious Palme d’Or prize is one of the most important cinematic prizes awarded every year. The list of participating films this year evokes much interest − how can one not be interested in a list that includes new movies by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Canadian directors Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, French directors Jean-Luc Godard, Olivier Assayas and Michel Hazanavicius, American actor Tommy Lee Jones, British Directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev and the Japanese director Naomi Kawase? These are all well-liked attendants at Cannes, some of whom have won prizes there, including the Palme d’Or.
I anticipate viewing the new creations of these directors, some of whom I greatly admire. However, the list of participants this year also evokes some heavy feelings.
The reason for this is not just the feeling that in recent years the festival has become something of an old boys’ club, with the same names repeating themselves every year (this is partly true of the parallel categories, but to a lesser extent). Most of the presenting Israeli directors have also been there before, and some of them have won prizes there.
In addition, the feeling is that this year’s crop is somewhat conservative, betting on the safe side while transmitting the message that even if the contemporary film scene boasts many important and talented filmmakers, not much new is really happening.
Is this an accurate reflection? I’m afraid it is. The contemporary movie scene is full of gifted creators who direct excellent movies all around the world, but over the past few years there has not been a sense of a new wave arising, one that surprises us or is channeling the art of movie making in new directions. Most of the list of participating directors this year attests to this situation. Most of them are veterans − some, such as Godard and Loach, are real old-timers. Even if all their new films are outstanding, which I hope they will be, their quality will only attest to talents that have already been proven, without any hint of change in the art they practice.
There will be a few first-timers this year, such as the Canadian director Xavier Dolan, whose previous movie was shown in the Certain Outlook category, and the American director Bennett Miller, whose earlier films “Capote” and “Moneyball” I had great respect for. Other newcomers’ names are unknown to me.
Is it possible that with such a lineup of directors, who have already established their place at the forefront of the film world, any surprises might turn up, such as the last one that happened in 2007?
That year, close to the opening of the festival, when the movies screened are not expected to win prizes, the second movie made by the young Romanian director Cristian Mungiu was shown. His name was not well known, but when his movie “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days” was screened, a classic work was revealed, garnering rave reviews. The movie ended up winning the Palme d’Or that year, and even though an earlier Romanian movie (“The Death of Mr Lazarescu” by Cristi Puiu) had won the prize for best film in the Certain Outlook category two years earlier, Mungiu’s movie confirmed Romania’s standing as a riveting source of filmmaking. The Romanian film industry has continued to produce good movies since then, although none are competing in this year’s festival.
We’ve known for some time now that fascinating movies have been coming out of Southeast Asia, often posing an alternative to Western films. None from these countries are in this year’s competition either.
There is nothing in the contemporary film scene that expresses a change or development that arouses excitement such as the older among us experienced in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with films coming from many countries, including the United States. I often envy my colleagues who cover the television world where novel developments happen often, some of which are creatively bolder and more sophisticated than what is happening in the movie world.
American films rarely make it to Cannes out of financial considerations, since no one in the U.S. seems to care if a film was shown in Cannes or even won a prize there. However, there are many good directors there whose work I will continue to follow with interest, even though they seem to lack the same freedom and creativity that is evident in many television series.
In that context, it is currently good to be a film critic in our parts. I don’t think the Israeli movie scene has an impact on the global scene, but as a creative entity it is a growing entity, developing in numerous ways that reflect the growing diversity in Israeli society. The growing presence of female directors characterizes the local scene. Five of the seven Israeli movies to be shown in Cannes were directed by women. Only recently, Talya Lavie’s movie “Zero Motivation” won a major prize at the Tribeca Festival.
Israeli movies have been arousing interest around the world in recent years, and it’s good to be in the middle of things, watching its twists and turns. Not all movies created here are good and some of the interest they create derives from my being an Israeli living here, with films created here being my professional interest, arousing the most intense of my critical faculties. As part of the broader global scene, Israeli movies today reflect a thriving creativity, demanding and challenging, fed by an intensely active creative energy. Most of them confront local realities and the artistic environment prevailing here.
I don’t feel the same way about the contemporary global movie scene. I may be wrong, and critics in other countries may feel the same way about their countrymen’s films as I do about mine. But I live here and want what is happening in Israeli films to be reflected in what occurs on the global movie scene in terms of interest, curiosity and excitement, even if foreign movies will never elicit in me the same emotional and intellectual involvement as do local films. The Israeli film industry is a ray of light in our grim reality, leaving its mark within this reality.