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Israel Film Festival

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Presented by IsraFest Foundation, Inc., the Israel Film Festival runs Saturday through Thursday, April 29 through May 4, at Water Tower, 175 E. Chestnut. Tickets for most programs are $8.50, $5.50 for seniors; weekday shows before 6 PM are $6. Festival passes, good for five screenings, not including special events, are $35. For more information call 312-297-4886 or 877-966-5566.

SATURDAY, APRIL 29

Zur Hadasim

Gideon Kolirin directed this 1999 comedy about two couples trying to work out their differences. 100 min. (7:30)

Vulcan Junction

A group of young friends--four rock musicians, a soccer star, and his journalist girlfriend--reach a defining moment in their lives on the eve of the Yom Kippur war in 1973. The six rebels commiserate at the title bar, where the rockers are performing, and while they're supposed to embody a generation headed for a tumultuous era, director Eran Riklis never gets to the root of their anger at one another or their disenchantment with the status quo. Instead he floods the screen with period pop-culture emblems (bell-bottoms, Golda Meir) and fills the sound track with vintage rock tunes to substitute for genuine emotion. This 1999 melodrama climaxes with a group encounter just before the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria and ends with a cynical "where are they now?" (one band member is managing a McDonald's in the States). As with the recent TV miniseries The Sixties, it's all cultural signposts and no insight. (TS) 98 min. (9:45)

SUNDAY, APRIL 30

White Lies

An expatriate Israeli playwright (Sharon Alexander) leaves Paris to return to the port city of Haifa and care for his ailing mother. He often tells convenient lies, hiding his mother's true illness from her or embellishing her dying words to his callous sister, and much of this 1999 drama focuses on his inability to come to terms with his feelings regarding his career, his family relations, and his estranged lover. Alexander, a skilled actor and a veteran of Israeli film, communicates the weight of the son's filial duty through his anguished expressions and tense movements, and the touching chats between mother and son indicate a powerful sense of emotional obligation. But director Yitzhak Ruben never exposes the source of the character's moroseness, nor does the constant juxtaposing of his present emptiness with the breakup of his romance reveal much. (TS) 90 min. (1:00)

Yana's Friends

More than a million Soviet Jews have immigrated to Israel during the past decade, but integrating into Israeli society hasn't been easy for them. Several good contemporary Israeli fiction films, among them Coffee With Lemon and The Distance, have poignantly addressed the problems faced by these immigrants, but Yana's Friends (1999) isn't among them. Written and directed by Arik Kaplun, himself a Russian emigre, this overly contrived and broadly comic film focuses on a group of immigrants in a Tel Aviv neighborhood during the gulf war. Yana (played by Kaplun's wife, Evlyn) is a melancholy blond with a heart-melting smile who's left pregnant and in debt when her scheming husband absconds to Russia with their immigration grant money. Her vulnerability and waiflike good looks arouse the protective (and other) instincts of her womanizing neighbor Eli. Yana's story is intercut and gradually connected with that of another newly arrived couple, vulgar strivers who exploit their wheelchair-bound war-hero grandfather by parking him, hat in hand, next to a street musician. Yana and Eli's response to gas masks and sealed rooms may inspire a few laughs, but this sex-and-death territory too was covered better in other films. (Alissa Simon) 90 min. (3:00, 5:30)

Florentene

Three episodes from the Israeli hit TV series about nine young people in a hip Tel Aviv neighborhood. Each half-hour episode focuses on a subset of characters, their issues ranging from the inconsequential to the momentous. Some of the situations are contrived, but others exude a bouncy spontaneity; with its rock music and jagged MTV visuals, the series could easily pass for Friends or Party of Five, except that the characters actually care about politics. (TS) 95 min. (10:00)

MONDAY, MAY 1

Borders and Chamara--A Place Out of Life

Two 1999 documentaries, both running just under an hour. Eran Riklis's Borders explores the lives of those who live near and police the borders separating Israel from its neighboring states. Benny Zada's Chamara--A Place Out of Life profiles the clientele of a small tavern in Tel Aviv. (3:00)

Basic Training

Two episodes from an Israeli TV series. Described as "a realistic account of Israeli military life," it recalls American TV shows in which characters' personal lives seem to intrude on their professions. The cultural differences are small (instead of being stalked by her ex, a young woman is pursued by a mysterious Arab), and the intertwined stories are all too familiar: the off-base caper that ends in a bloody poolroom brawl, the seaside tete-a-tete interrupted by a quarrel. Director Uri Barbash does little more than point the camera in the general direction of the action. (FC) 100 min. (5:30)

Martin

Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's 1999 documentary focuses on a Polish veteran of World War II who survived the concentration camp at Dachau and has remained in the town to bear witness. 50 min. (7:30)

White Lies

See listing for Sunday, April 30. (9:45)

TUESDAY, MAY 2

My Yiddishe Mama's Dream

This 1999 TV documentary introduces us to opera conductor Daniel Oren, who rose to fame in Italy and Israel and holds himself up as an exemplar of Arab-Israeli heritage. Oren's father is descended from a wealthy Yemeni tribe, while his strong-willed mother came from an Orthodox Jewish family; except for a common interest in their son's musical education, the parents didn't get along. The film's interviews are woven into a story line of Oren preparing to conduct a lavish Franco Zeffirelli production of La boheme in Tel Aviv. The low-grade backstage footage is suspenseful and revealing, but the parallel between Mimi dying in Rodolfo's arms and Oren cradling his gravely ill mother is a bit much. Director Asher Tlalim doesn't probe too deeply into Oren's ambivalence toward his devoted mother, and his uncritical look at the maestro's rise would have warmed mama's heart. (TS) 62 min. On the same program, Four Friends (1999), Ester Dar's documentary about four college roommates in the 1930s--two Jews and two Palestinians--who are reunited in 1998. 61 min. (3:00)

Airtime

Isaac Zepel Yeshurun directed this 1999 drama about a former security officer who now sells real estate. 80 min. (5:30)

Yana's Friends

See listing for Sunday, April 30. (7:30)

Vulcan Junction

See listing for Saturday, April 29. (9:45)

WEDNESDAY, MAY 3

What I Saw in Hebron

Dan and Noit Geva's video describes a 1929 massacre in which Arabs murdered 84 Jews in Hebron. While Sephardic Jews and Arabs had long lived in peace, the arrival of Ashkenazic Zionists created tension; Arabs began to fear for their homes (not without reason, as later events would prove), and apparently the ensuing bloodbath was premeditated, sparked by the muftis. Using swords and knives, Arabs butchered families and raped their daughters; some children survived by playing dead or lying buried under corpses. The Gevas present the testimony of survivors, rapidly intercutting talking heads as they give fragments of the same story. The past appears mostly in black-and-white footage of the massacre sites, with bits of dramatization--shots of hands, dripping blood--that are effective if not very original. This 1999 video reports that the Sephardim's homes are now occupied by militant right-wing Jewish settlers and recalls the recent massacre of Arabs at prayer by Baruch Goldstein, making peace between Arab and Jew seem sadly distant. (FC) 73 min. (3:00)

The Letter That Arrived on Time

A woman still cannot accept her stepmother after her father's death in this 1999 television drama. The mix of flashbacks and present-tense narrative never quite jells, but otherwise this is much more effective than you'd guess from the plot. Director Michal Cooper Keren uses the camera with a commendable, almost Bressonian restraint, framing the principal characters in tight, slightly off-balance compositions that suggest rich interior lives we can never fully know--a theme confirmed in the drama's denouement. (FC) 50 min. On the same program, As If Nothing Happened (1999), Ayelet Bargur's 50-minute drama about a mother and father who fear that their son has died in a terrorist attack. (5:30)

Yana's Friends

See listing for Sunday, April 30. (7:30)

Zur Hadasim

See listing for Saturday, April 29. (9:45)

THURSDAY, MAY 4

Martin

See listing for Monday, May 1. On the same program, Four Friends. (3:00)

Aharon Cohen's Debt

A father, unjustly jailed, stuggles to survive the night without his ulcer medication as his daughter attempts to free him. Amalia Margolin directed this 1999 drama. 100 min. (5:30)

Vulcan Junction

See listing for Saturday, April 29. (7:30)

Total Love

This picturesque but empty-headed drama takes its name from an aphrodisiac accidentally concocted by four friends in an Israeli city who then decide to cash in on the drug. Even without the assistance of Total Love, the three men adore free-spirited Renanna and resolve to rescue her when she's jailed for selling drugs in Goa, India. She's supposed to be an irresistible life force, a femme fatale who flits from man to man, but she seems more like a spaced-out waif, traveling from one international drug mecca to another in search of something like enlightenment. The film has its pleasures--gorgeous sunrises on the beach, idyllic moments by a canal, snapshots of teeming India, a weird millennial rave--but the characters' drug-culture platitudes are as cheesy as the psychedelic graphics they see under the spell of their potion. Gur Bentwich directed. (TS) 96 min. (9:45)

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