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A mixed bag of new Israeli films

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For the first time in a long time, three very different Israeli films have just opened or are about to open across the country.

People are always on the lookout for films that show how alienated young people are, and Hadas Ben Aroya is the latest Israeli filmmaker to offer a glimpse into youth culture and soberly showcase loveless connections among young adults in Tel Aviv. She was both an actress and a director and starred in her 2016 debut film, People That Are Not Me, and was very effective, a title that poked fun at the solipsism of its characters. But she’s not starring in her new film All Eyes Off Me, which launches across Israel on December 16, and while the film isn’t doing as well as her first film, it won the Haggiag Award for best Israeli feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer and shared the award with Tom Shovals Shake Your Cares Away. The leading actress Elisheva Weil also won the Anat Pirchi Award for best leading actress at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

All Eyes Off Me is divided into three parts linked by Avishag, Weil’s character. In the first story, Danny (Hadar Katz) goes in search of Max (Leib Levin). They recently had a one night stand and now she is pregnant and planning an abortion. When she sees him there flirting with Avishag, she just can’t tell him about the pregnancy and pretends that they are the most casual acquaintance. It’s hard to tell how much she cares about him, but it is clear that on some level she is jealous and hurt and your heart is with her. In a more conventional movie, Danny and her pregnancy would take center stage, but the rest of the movie is about Avishag. In the second part she is in bed with Max and the two lovers make a confession. He tells her that while traveling to the Philippines he discovered that he is really attracted to female young men, while she tells him that she likes to be beaten during sex and persuades him to hit her. He is enthusiastically committed. All your exchanges are unsexy and
there was so much lack of passion that I wondered what to get out of it. It seemed that neither really stood up to the other to borrow a concept from Sex and the City. I wasn’t sure if her masochism should be a valid choice (“Not that there was anything wrong with it,” to borrow a Seinfeld quote) or if it should show that she was self-loathing and wanted to be humiliated. Likewise, it wasn’t clear whether his admission indicated that he wasn’t really attracted to Avishag. Anyway, it wasn’t much fun watching the whole game.

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In the third and last section, Avishag seduces the plump, reclusive middle-aged man (Yoav Hayt), whose dogs she goes for a walk. He is overjoyed, even though she seems to be playing with him for some unclear reason. She doesn’t ask him to hit her like she asked Max, and I was grateful she didn’t so I wouldn’t have to go through a scene like that again. It is probably pointless for me to try to figure out the characters’ motivations in depth. Perhaps Avishag is just supposed to be a confused young woman, emblematic of a generation that has a hard time getting involved and settling down. The whole movie has a realistic, improvised quality to it, but a lot of it is boring and it felt a lot longer than it actually was.

All Eyes Off Me (Credit: LEV CINEMAS)Shlomi Elkabetz’s Black Notebooks, which are currently playing across the country, is a documentary that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year and was named Best Israeli Documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It’s an intimate look at the life of his late sister, Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz, who died in 2016 at the age of 51. Shlomi Elkabetz is an actress, director, screenwriter, and producer who audiences will know best as the lead detective on the HBO / Keshet series Our Boys.

Ronit Elkabetz dominated the big screen in every role she played, including films like Dover Koshashvili’s Late Marriage and Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit, as well as an extraordinary trilogy she wrote and directed with her brother in which she married an unhappily married one Moroccan portrayed about her mother: To Take a Wife (2004), Shiva (2008) and Gett (2014). Ronit also had an extravagant personality, charming interviewers and audiences alike, wore fashionable designer outfits to premieres and always brought a touch of glamor to every event she attended. She is fluent in French, also had a successful career in France and loved spending time in her Paris apartment. It’s hard to imagine the heights she would have reached as an actress and director if she had lived.

    Black Notebooks (Credit: COURTESY UNITED KING FILMS) Black Notebooks (Credit: COURTESY UNITED KING FILMS)

The 210-minute film consists of home movies by Ronit, excerpts from her films and interviews with her parents. There are moments that are very moving, especially those that show her embracing marriage and motherhood just a few years before her death, as well as those that detail her battle with cancer. When asked about her short hair at an awards ceremony, she said convincingly, “This is my new look,” with few realizing that she was undergoing chemotherapy. But a lot of this documentary feels a lot more intense to the filmmaker than it does to the viewer. For every convincing clip, there are three or four that have far less impact. Even the most ardent fans of the actress will slowly find this. Black Notebooks is clearly a work of love, but a notebook is a place where you record all of your private thoughts without even thinking about refining or publishing them, and maybe the director was too close to the subject to make the material effective design.

Mr. Kohl’s Final Hour, now in theaters, a film by Doron Eran, is an adaptation of the play by Yehoshua Sobol and is mainly a monologue by the lead actor Ohad Shahar. It is set outside of a prison and is a play.

    Mr. Kohl's Last Hour (Credit: COURTESY OF TRANSFAX) Mr. Kohl’s Last Hour (Credit: COURTESY OF TRANSFAX)

Kohl is a lawyer about to go to jail to serve a desperate act after his client committed suicide in a case against a corrupt pharmaceutical company. The film refers to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, in which the hero Joseph K. protests his innocence after he was arrested and drawn into a bizarre, incomprehensible legal system. As he speaks to the prison authorities and waits for an apparently unrealistic last minute pardon, and also speaks to various women in his life, it becomes clear that he has been guilty of many hurtful, selfish acts. The film shows how, as so often, the fact that he sided with the angels in this court case doesn’t make him a decent person. There are many ideas at work in this relatively short film – it lasts 80 minutes – and everything revolves around Shahar’s captivating performance. But it gets tiring watching a man on the phone for almost an hour and a half. Perhaps it would have been even more effective to see this drama on stage where the intensity of the live performance might have made it more enjoyable.

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