Israel Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Festival

Israel Film Festival

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

Presented by IsraFest Foundation, Inc., the Israel Film Festival runs Saturday through Thursday, May 4 through 9, at Landmark's Century Centre and Renaissance Place, 1850 Second, Highland Park. Tickets for most programs are $9, $6 for seniors and children under 11; weekday shows before 6 are $6. Festival passes, good for five screenings, not including special events, are $36. For more information call 877-966-5566. Unless otherwise noted, all films are in Hebrew with subtitles; films marked with an * are highly recommended.

SATURDAY, MAY 4

Desperado Square

Paying tribute to the golden age of Bollywood, specifically Raj Kapoor's Sangam, this 1992 film seems as hokey as its models but lacks the epic audacity that makes them so exhilarating. Avram (Muhammad Bakri) returns to his hometown to pay tribute to his recently deceased brother and confronts his brother's widow (Yona Elian), whom he abandoned 25 years earlier in deference to his brother's arranged marriage. The brother's movie theater has been shuttered since Avram left town, but Avram's two nephews have decided to reopen it and screen Sangam, the most popular film ever shown there. Director Benny Torati captures the quirkiness and insularity of small-town life, and the script's annoying cliches and improbable coincidences are overcome by Torati's compassion for the characters. 97 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Besame Mucho

Ten residents of south Tel Aviv get mixed up with an international crime ring that's stolen a Christian icon. Joseph Pitchhadze directed this 2000 feature. 114 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:45)

SUNDAY, MAY 5

Besame Mucho

See listing for Saturday, May 4. (Renaissance Place, 1:00)

Buchachi

The TV series Voices From the Heartland, which depicts regional Israeli life, broadcast this 52-minute film about a timid and unassuming cook on an air force base (Moshe Folkenflik). Leader of the kitchen staff by virtue of seniority, Buchachi has always accepted the pecking order on the base and tolerated the taunts of the regular military. A new recruit teaches the chief cook to stand up for himself, but ultimately the newcomer isn't the person he's presented to everyone. Although too predictable at times, this modest little film acquits itself honorably in capturing the ennui of military life and the frustration of being stuck in a menial job that everyone else takes for granted. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:00)

Poker Face

Alex is in his late 50s and suffering from memory problems; the poker group he's played in for 15 years is about to replace him with an Argentinean emigre said to be a good player "even though" he's gay. Ana, Alex's wife, won't acknowledge his early Alzheimer's and conceals the diagnosis from her husband, who bungles his game, wanders outdoors, and forgets to light the gas, almost blowing up his building. This is a tragedy with no easy answers, and director Eitan Aner uses compositions to heighten conflict: after Alex vanishes, Ana is framed behind his empty desk. 50 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:00)

My First Sony

A philandering playwright leaves his wife and his three children, one of whom uses his new video camera to document the family's dissolution. Directed for television by Uri Barbash. 100 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

The Troupe

Three performers join the Israeli army's entertainment troupe in the wake of the Six-Day War; Avi Nesher directed this 1979 feature. 112 min. (Renaissance Place, 3:00)

Giraffes

An attorney who's set up a blind date meets the wrong woman, an error that leads to "murder and massive intrigue." Tzahi Grad wrote and directed this 2001 feature. 115 min. (Renaissance Place, 5:15)

Rutenberg

Eli Cohen strikes a solemn, meditative tone with this 1989 biopic of Pinchas Rutenberg, who brought electricity to Jewish Palestine in the early 20th century by building a hydroelectric power station in Nahararyim. Cohen and screenwriter Yaron Seelig take an elliptical approach to the story, setting it in 1931 when the power station was to open and using flashbacks, some quite brief, to show how Rutenberg was implicated in trying to overthrow the Russian czarist government and how he lobbied Winston Churchill and other British MPs to bankroll his electricity project. Rutenberg, a complex, larger-than-life figure involved in monumental historical events, warrants more in-depth treatment than this 90-minute feature can supply. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

* It's About Time

A cross section of contemporary Israelis ponder the paradoxes of time in this utterly delightful and inventive 2001 documentary by Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel. All the interviewees seem to agree that in Israel, whose birth was unexpected and whose history is measured by wars, time is experienced differently than in other cultures. Yet each person has his own peculiar take on the subject, told to the beat of a jazz quartet, and the filmmakers use the medium (flashbacks, slow motion, fast motion) to playfully demonstrate the elasticity of time. By airing a diversity of opinions that nonetheless dovetails on the topic at hand, the film says more about Israeli culture than one might expect. 54 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Desperado Square

See listing for Saturday, May 4. (Renaissance Place, 9:45)

Foreign Sister

Dan Wolman's 2000 dramatic feature explores the friendship between an overworked Israeli mother and the Ethiopian woman she hires as a domestic. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:45)

MONDAY, MAY 6

Altermania

A 90-minute profile of Natan Alterman (1910-'70), who emigrated from Warsaw to Tel Aviv and became one of Israel's most widely read poets. Eli Cohen directed. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

* Mother V

A mother sets out to reconcile her ailing husband with her jailed son, a nuclear technician imprisoned for revealing state secrets, in this 2001 episode from the TV series Voices From the Heartland. Journeying through the forbidding desert to reach the jail, she meets a bedouin shepherd and reveals the crime that stigmatizes her religious family. The son's predicament is loosely based on a true story, and director Shahar Rozen adds to the film's authenticity by shooting in and around Dimona, the center of Israel's nuclear facilities. But the film's real highlight is Levana Finkelstein's dignified performance as the anxious and illiterate mother, torn between maternal love and family loyalty. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. 52 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Shofar

Part of the Voices From the Heartland TV series, which focuses on Israeli regional life, this 51-minute drama is set in the slums of Bnei Brak, among the ultraorthodox Haredi society. Shimon Mimran plays a Torah scholar who ekes out a living while his wife (Orna Fitousi) teaches and cares for their autistic son (Daniel Peri Nadav). At a neighbor's apartment the boy blows his shofar (a ram's horn trumpet) at the stomach of an overdue pregnant woman, and instantly her water breaks. The neighbor declares it a miracle, and soon people are queuing up to receive the scholar's prayers and the boy's tooting, creating a circus atmosphere. Dov Elbaum's script, after the fashion of a folk story or parable, nicely dramatizes the various moral dilemmas confronting these devoutly religious people. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

My First Sony

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

TUESDAY, MAY 7

* Mother V

See listing for Monday, May 6. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

Shofar

See listing for Monday, May 6. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

Buchachi

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Poker Face

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

The Arena

A city council's plan to build a parking garage under Tel Aviv's Rabin Square sets off a debate about the square's future in this mild-mannered advocacy documentary (2001) by Moish Goldberg and Jonathan Gurfinkel. Period footage illustrates the rich history of the central square, known as King of Israel Square but changed to Rabin Square shortly after the prime minister was assassinated after a rally there in 1995. Partisans include the original architect and the designer of the square's Holocaust monument, yet as the filmmakers note again and again (over a gratingly ominous sound track), the mass political rallies and the graffiti mourning Rabin's death are the strongest arguments for the square's preservation. 48 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Whose Land Is It?

Liora Avni directed this profile of an Arab police officer and artist who organizes an Arab-Israeli art exhibition in the name of peaceful coexistence. 51 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Giraffes

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:45)

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8

Ramleh

Michal Aviad's 2001 film examines the lives of several women, ranging from a Muslim teacher to ultra-Orthodox Jews, in the former Palestinian territory of Ramleh. 60 min. (Landmark's Century, 3:00)

Whose Land Is It?

See listing for Tuesday, May 7. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

It Kinda Scares Me

Youth counselor Tomer Heymann wrote, coproduced, and directed this 2001 documentary about his work with disenfranchised street kids from Azur, a Tel Aviv housing project. His organization, Youth Promotion, aims to steer adolescents away from the usual cycle of drugs, crime, and violence. Heymann attempts to create a play based on the group's real-life experiences and encounters several obstacles that threaten to derail the project, but his calm perseverance is infectious, and eventually the toughest members of the group mitigate their anger and pain by dramatizing their difficult lives. Poorly lit and crudely shot, this nonetheless provides a fascinating glimpse at the cast-off youth of Israel's largest and most industrialized city. 57 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Pacha Mama

Asaffa Peled's 2001 documentary explores the spiritual journey of Moshe Kastiela, who left the military, became a dance-music deejay, and eventually established a religious commune in Costa Rica. 61 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Foreign Sister

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Rutenberg

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:45)

THURSDAY, MAY 9

Are You This Able?

An Israeli theater troupe composed of mentally challenged adults travels to Los Angeles to perform. Rony Gruber directed this 2000 documentary. 50 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

My Own Telenovella

Filmmaker Jorge Weller, who emigrated from Argentina to Israel in the 1970s, tries to reunite family members from both countries in this 66-minute documentary. In Hebrew and Spanish with subtitles. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

The Ballad of Ari Verderchi

Eitan Londner wrote and directed this 2001 slice-of-life drama about a pregnant teen runaway in Tel Aviv (Olga Getmanski) who strikes up a friendship with a slow-witted bike messenger (Tzachi Hanan). The first half follows the girl's seduction into the druggy rock scene, the second her rescue by the messenger, who's mocked by passersby because he chimes in on the gooey pop ballads (by the Israeli band Kaveret) on his boom box. The unlikely platonic romance between the girl and the older messenger recalls Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude but lacks that film's caliber of wit and eccentricity. Every ten minutes Londner interjects a musical break, as if cuing up moods the story can't supply. 76 min. (TS) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Desperado Square

See listing for Saturday, May 4. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:30)

Giraffes

See listing for Sunday, May 5. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:45)

Add a comment