Move Over, Hollywood: Israel Salutes European Cinema

In Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 13 movies from 13 European Union countries tell film history.

Uri Klein
Uri Klein
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Uri Klein
Uri Klein

For the second year, the embassies of 13 European Union countries are showing restored copies of classic European films at the cinematheques in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The restored films are being shown as part of Another Look: The Restored European Films Project, which opened Tuesday at the Haifa Cinematheque.

The project is a salute to the history of European cinema, which is overshadowed by American cinema even though it continues to create high-quality films. The event taking place at the cinematheques is an opportunity to recognize the importance of European cinema.

Among the 13 films being screened - one from each participating country - is one that changed cinematic history: Roberto Rossellini’s film “Rome, Open City” (1945), one of the cornerstones of Italian neorealism. A powerful, expressive film set in Rome during the German occupation of World War II and filmed on location, it tells the story of several inhabitants of one of Rome’s neighborhoods who are caught in the crossfire between the Nazi occupier and the underground resistance organization working against it.

On Tuesday, the 1967 comedy “The Firemen’s Ball” was screened at the Haifa Cinematheque. Filmed by the Czech-American director Milos Forman in his native Czechoslovakia before he defected to the United States after the Soviet invasion, this bitingly satirical yet touching film was banned in its home country but successful throughout the world. Its sharp criticism of the communist regime is mixed with human understanding and compassion.

Denmark’s representative is the film “Hunger” (Henning Carlsen, 1966), based on Knut Hamsun’s 1890 novel of the same name. In a solemn and ascetic spirit, assisted by the precise performance of Per Oscarsson in the leading role (which won him the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival), the movie tells the story of a starving writer wandering the streets of his city and whose hold on reality weakens as his suffering increases.

France’s entry is Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast (1946).” One of the better-known films of this event, its treatment of the old tale is adult and sophisticated. The romantic elements are mixed with surrealistic figures whose psychological mystery is plumbed. This doesn’t detract from the film’s magic, but deepens it.

Holaת American dream!

Spain’s entry, “Welcome, Mr. Marshall!” (Luis Garcia Berlanga, 1953), is also a satirical film. It is set in the small rural community of Villar del Rio, which is expecting the arrival of an American delegation offering economic aid to Spain’s cities and villages. Brimming with humor and vitality, the film describes how Villar del Rio’s inhabitants, swept away with their anticipation of fulfilling the American dream, alter their village to meet what they believe the Americans’ expectations to be.

In 1954, the Greek director Gregg C. Tallas directed “The Barefoot Battalion,” a film worthy of discovery. In a style influenced by Italian neorealism, the film tells of a group of orphans in Thessaloniki during World War II who band together and steal food from the Germans to survive, and at a certain point become involved in underground activity.

The 1981 film by Polish director Wojciech Marczewski, “Shivers,” takes place in Poland of the early 1950s, when it was under Stalin’s power. The protagonist of the film is a teenage boy whose father is in prison, while he himself has been sent to a summer camp where to absorb communist ideals.

Antonio da Cunha Telles’ 1970 film “The Siege,” Portugal’s entry, shows its French New Wave influence in telling the story of a young woman who leaves her overbearing husband to embark on a journey of self-discovery. The film is one of many made during that time about women’s place in patriarchal society and their first attempts to liberate themselves from it. That same year, German director Werner Herzog made the film “Even Dwarfs Started Small.” Herzog’s films often contained a great deal of the eccentric and the bizarre; the trend culminates in this film, which was cast entirely with dwarfs.

Several of the films contain experimental elements. Among them is Romanian director Ion Popescu-Gopo’s “A Bomb Was Stolen” (1961). Made without dialogue, the film, which is full of comic brilliance, tells the story of a young man who finds a suitcase with a nuclear bomb inside.

Two other representatives of experimental cinema are British director Peter Brook’s fascinating “Tell Me Lies” (1968) and Belgian director Chantal Akerman’s film “News From Home” (1977). Both films combine components of the feature and documentary genres. “Tell Me Lies,” based on a play by Denis Cannan, probes the Vietnam War and the protests against it. Akerman’s film, which was made during her stay in New York in the 1970s, combines long takes of New York City with excerpts of the director’s letters to her mother, which she reads aloud on the soundtrack.

Another Look includes silent film. Germany’s “The Hands of Orlac,” directed by Robert Wiene in 1924. Wiene is best known for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919), an expressionist film considered one of the seminal works in cinematic history. “The Hands of Orlac” tells the story of a well-known pianist (played by Conrad Veidt, who also played the somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), whose hands were amputated in a railway accident. He gets a new pair of hands transplanted from an executed murderer, and which have a will of their own.

From "The Firemen's Ball" (Czechoslovakia)Credit: courtesy
From "The Hands of Orlac".Credit: courtesy
From "Rome, Open City".Credit: courtesy

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