OldAle1 wrote: ↑April 18th, 2021, 1:36 pm
1. El Naser Salah el Dine / Saladin
(Youssef Chahine, 1963) EGYPT
2. Gemide / On Board
(Serdar Akar, 1998) TURKEY
3. West Beyrouth (À l'abri les enfants) / West Beirut
(Ziad Doueiri, 1998) LEBANON
(Samuel Maoz, 2009) ISRAEL
(Samuel Maoz, 2017) ISRAEL
There are plenty of commonalities between Samuel Maoz' two features, though it was clear after watching the first that he had to go in a different direction - you don't make two films set entirely in a tiny, claustrophobic space in a row, do you? Both films feature lots of water - you could say there's almost a Tarkovskian focus on brackish, dirty, mostly still water, and plenty of rain as well in Foxtrot
. Guy loves his water. And while Foxtrot
has a bit wider range of locations and is partially set out-of-doors, it still has a feeling of the closed-in - in terms of narrative and human feelings - and a greater interest in interior space. Both are films that seem fairly critical of Israel's role in the world and it's relations with it's neighbors, and both question or deny the existence of God. In short, these aren't exactly fun, popular works by an entertainer.
is a film about a tank going into the titular country during the 1982 war; the tank is accompanied by various ground troops, but we never venture outside the dark, wet, unpleasant confines of the vehicle and it's four occupants - commander, driver, gunner and loader. The commander is maybe just a touch older - though all are quite young, under 25 I'd say - and maybe wants a career in the military, it's hard to tell in an hour and a half and the film is more-or-less real time or taking place over just a day or two maybe. Time has little meaning. The rest of the crew, in particular the gunner, aren't happy being here, and don't understand what they're doing or why. There's also the overall commander of the unit who pops in from time to time to tell them what to do and try to promote morale, I guess, in his arrogant and officious way. It's clearly a film meant to demonstrate just how ill-prepared these soldiers are for war, and how alienating and inhuman the whole experience is, and it accomplishes that, but beyond that, I dunno what to say; worth seeing but I'm not sure how enlightening in the end, and being inside the tank sure does limit the cinematic possibilities.
is a different kettle of fish though Israel's security and the threat of violence are present throughout for sure. It's three parts, with the first showing middle-aged architect Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) in his airy, huge apartment being told that his son's been killed in action. An air of sadness of course, as Michael and his wife Daphna (Sarah Adler, who looked way too young to have grown children to me) grieve, but then things turn to anger when he confronts the military over various issues like not being able to see the body. Part two shows the son, Jonathan, and his group of four men who guard a lonely road, often just watching camels walk through, playing videogames, and drinking. This has a bit of humor and lightness in it - the only real moments of "fun" in these two films - but is also filled with tension; who knows what kind of people are in any particular car that comes along? And the third part is an aftermath to both of these segments, with Michael and Daphna some unspecified time later, their relationship shattered, trying to collect themselves. It's hard to say much more without spoiling the central plot developments, which aren't twists or even necessarily big surprises but still I think are better discovered on one's own. I enjoyed this mordant slice of life throughout but it's really the last part that puts it all together and makes it stick. I would add that it's one of the better uses of the 2.35 frame for an indoor-set film I've seen lately. Maoz has a good eye and it's no surprise he started out on the visual and art direction side of filmmaking. Pretty terrific film all in all.
6. The Gatekeepers
(Dror Moreh, 2012) ISRAEL
I can't think of much that probably hasn't already been said about this documentary consisting mostly of interviews of six of the former chiefs of Sin Bet, Israel's internal security service. It's an above-average talking heads doc - with some archival footage of Israeli leaders, the aftermaths of terrorist attacks, etc - that explores the problems the country has had both with it's external or, let's say, non-Jewish enemies - first the PLO, then Hamas for the most part - and internal, mostly right-wing agitators and militant settlers. While there is perhaps a bit of the I-was-only-doing-my-job syndrome at work, most of these guys seem fairly honest about their own intentions, their justifications for various actions which unfortunately often had unintended consequences, i.e. civilian casualties, and counter-attacks. And ultimately they place most of the blame for the continuing violence and lack of any permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict directly on the heads of the Prime Ministers, all of whom except for the assassinated Rabin being seen as standing in the way of progress rather than working for it.
7. Sallah Shabati
(Ephraim Kishon, 1964) ISRAEL
I haven't seen a film starring Topol in a long time - I finally got around to his most famous role in Fiddler on the Roof
maybe 10 years ago; Flash Gordon
and his Bond appearance are much further in the past. And I didn't look at his page or anything else before watching this, so I was kind of blown away that he was only 29 when he made this - just his third film - and that he's still alive at 85; I thought he was a man belonging to the distant past, and an elderly presence in the films I remembered him in. Nope, turns our that he just had a talent for playing old, or that's just the direction his career (the part I've seen) took him in. Here he's a middle-aged alcoholic father of 6 (or is it 7? even he doesn't know) kids aged - well, one is just about to be born - up to around 20 who has just emigrated to Israel and is starting life over on a kibbutz, for which like just about everything else he's ill-prepared. This is basically a series of sketches in which this good-for-nothing - but not quite a scoundrel - tries all kinds of mostly ridiculous and half-assed schemes to get out of the squalid refugee camp he and the family are living in, and into an ugly but modern apartment complex a short distance away. Typical is a scene where he tries to find a dog for which there's a reward, and then brings a completely different dog to the couple who have posted the reward and argues with them about it; but somehow, of course, we all know that he'll end up winning in the end, because blustering con-artists and big personalities tend to go much further than their talents or brains should allow (see: most of modern US politics and much of our pop culture). For me it got more fun as it went along, and Topol is just such a great presence and so utterly dominates every scene he's in that I wonder why he hasn't had a larger film career. Oh, because he's done nothing much but play Tevye for 50 years, that's why. Good for folks who want to see Fiddler live I guess, too bad for movie audiences.