Jewish cinema is much more than Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and “Fiddler on the roof.” In fact, the Israeli film industry has been growing a lot since the 1970s and today it is a worldwide benchmark for moviegoers around the world. In this post, you will get to know 7 must-see Israeli movies, recommended for being aware of the cultural reality of Israel and the new audiovisual aesthetics developing in this great nation.
Les citronniers (2008)
The film by Eran Riklis is a wonderful drama, in which the Palestinian-Israeli schism is the backdrop of the play. The story is about Salma, a Palestinian widow who decides to wage a battle against Israel’s defense minister, whose home borders her lemon grove, on the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Police decree that Salma’s trees pose a real threat to the defense minister and his family, and orders them to be cleared. Salma decides to fight to save her trees (and her life.) A film that talks about how the exercise of power divides us humans and makes us forget our most basic essence.
Actually, the first Israeli film awarded with the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. This film, all shot inside a tank, shows the story of an attempt to rescue a group of paratroopers in an urban setting under siege by the Syrian troops during the 1982 Lebanon war. It was directed by Shmulik Maoz, who used his experiences as a young Israeli conscript during that conflict for writing and directing the movie. It stirs deep reflections about war itself and the need to build peace between different peoples.
Read also: Remarkable Israeli writers you should know, by Yosef Meystel
Sallah Shabati (1964)
The Yemenite Jew Sallah Shabati, played by the 29-year-old Chaim Topol, travels to Israel with his childbearing family. They followed the promises of a new apartment, but they have to live in a tiny barrack in a transitional warehouse. Sallah, who rules over his family like a king, lets his children work and plays with his neighbors. He is released from his temporary employment job because of his subversive acts of sabotage. Sallah, sympathetic and devious, has a deep complex heart. A good film about the cultural differences of Israeli people. It was produced with minimal equipment and technical expertise, but it established the international success of Kishon and Chaim Topol.
The Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel, is a combination of cultures and opposing views between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The tragic fragility of human existence is shown in the closed community of Ajami, where enemies must coexist as neighbors. Nasri, a boy of thirteen years old, describes the harsh reality that surrounds him in his closed community, where old enemies refuse to tolerate each other.
Waltz with Bashir (2008)
This incredible anti-war achievement speaks of the death of the Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Chatila during the Lebanon war in 1982. The director is indeed the main character and speaks from his memories, or rather, from the lack of them. Folman was present where the terrible events happened (as a soldier, actually) but his amnesia makes him investigate if his dreams were real or an absurd fiction. The search for truth will lead him to reveal the stupidity, horror, and consequences of that war.
The policeman (1971)
This is a wonderful classic of Israeli cinema, released in 1971, written and directed by the satirical writer Ephraim Kishon. The protégé, who gives the title to the film, is played by the actor and mime Shaike Ophir, and it’s maybe one of his best roles. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972 and won the Golden Globe in the same category. The story is about a police officer, Avraham Azulai, a sad patrolman from Jaffa. Undoubtedly, he is an honest but naïve man, who complains of never being promoted by his superiors.
Walk on the water (2004)
Eyal is a professional hitman of the Mossad. His mission is to locate Alfred Himmelman, a former Nazi officer who seems to be still alive. Eyal spies on Pia, Himmelman’s granddaughter, who has moved to Israel after breaking up with her family in Germany. Eyal poses as a professional guide and takes advantage of Axel, Pia’s brother, who has also moved to Israel after his sister. Although the two men have very different personalities, Eyal, a tough guy, adopts the liberal ideas and the inexhaustible enthusiasm of the young Axel. Axel returns to Germany, but the Mossad suspects that Himmelman could come to light to attend the birthday party of Pia and Axel’s father. Eyal goes to Germany where he must see Axel to know more about the family … and I won’t keep spoiling surprises here. It’s a movie not to get off the chair and I know you will enjoy it.
Recommended: Israel Film Festival