Sad Girls (Film Thoughts: Asia)

Ruth Pribar’s ‘Asia’ was a big winner at Israel’s Orphi Awards (their Oscars equivalent) ,and is that country’s entry this year for the Academy Awards. It’s a relation ship about a young mother and her daughter. Alena Yiv plays Asia, a Russian immigrant in Jerusalem raising a teenager, and is running against time – her daughter Vika (Sira Haas) has a degenerative disease. It’s a depressing film – you just know situations will just get worse and yes, it does. I don’t know if I was in the right mood when I saw this, and the film just made me reallys ad and depressed afterwards. It has great performances from the two female leads, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

Bookings (Movie Thoughts: Sublet)

I have to say, I was quite taken by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s new film ‘Sublet.’ I found myself tearing up from it, really touched by it.

Part of it may be my sense of wanderlust. I used to do one big trip a year and obviously couldn’t do this year. The film is a great ‘trip,’ in a sense. John Benjamin Hickey plays a NYT travel journalist (‘The Intrepid Traveler’) who goes on a trip to Tel Aviv. And in the film, we get a real sense of Tel Aviv, and in that sense the film is such a traveler’s experience. You do feel like a tourist who finds a little more about yourself after a trip – and this is what most good travels do to you. I have been to Tel Aviv, and learned more about it from this film than my (admittedly brief) stay.

Hickey also plays someone more or less my age, and I can identify with a lot of the things he is going through, emotionally. He comes in coming from a little bit of heartbreak, and is a little lost. He finds an unlikely friendship with Tomer, who is renting the apartment he booked. They connect, and teh film sort of becomes a two-ships-in-the-night kind of thing. I was a little less impressed with this part of the film – I never got a real clear sense in what they connected at, for example. But Hickey and Niv Nissim (who plays Tomer) are quite good actors, and they have great chemistry together that you can’t help but get swept by them. And of course, the characters in the end learn a little bit more about themselves from each other. As I said, it was great to see a middle-aged gay man as the emotional core of the film. This film made me feel ‘seen,’ as the kids would say nowadays. And it made me long for those days when I can travel again, and maybe peel a layer of emotions within me.

Calling Children (Film Thoughts: 15 Years)

unnamed-7A couple, Yoav and Dan (Oded Leopold and Udi Persi) is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary. But there’s trouble brewing. All their friends are wanting to have children, and Yoav’s friend Alma is just announced that she is pregnant. This causes a whirlwind of events that spiral downwards for Yoav, a mid life crisis of sorts. Yuval Hadadi’s ’15 Years’ is kind of timely. Ever since marriage equality, a lot of gay couples have been starting families, and it is upsetting the status quo for some guys – do they join the mainstreaming of gay life, or hold on tot heir ‘individuality’? I wish the film went deeper in that, but we only see the surface in Yoav is feeling, and at times, it makes you feel unsympathetic towards the character. the acting is good, and it will more or less make you believe the situations they are in, but you can’t help but try to understand.

Israel, Greece and Germany (Movie Thoughts: Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life/Orpheus Song)

jasmlTomer Heyman has fashioned a ‘rise and fall’ documentary titled ‘Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life,’ about the gay porn star of the same name (his real name is Elkana Yonatan Langer) I wish I could say that Agassi’s story is quite unique, but I know that this story is a little too common for for gay adult performers. Agassi rose to fame via Michael Lucas’ production company and at one point was the most popular star of the genre, even winning Best Actor at Huslaball awards. The documentary is pretty straightforward and the bet part of it for me is his close relationship with his mother. his low point was a little hard to watch, but it was nice to know that he for the most part recovered from it. As a documentary, it really did not offer much of anything new for me.

orpheussongI didn’t know what to make of the beginning part of ‘Orpheus Song,’ but I kept on watching. Basically two masc guys working out together at the gym. Then they go to Greece for a vacation, then they have an encounter with a Greek God (I Think the story went there) and then they start to fall in love. Or did they? I loved the last part of teh film when both are faced to confront their feelings, and what do you know, this has a feel-good ending that will make you shout for joy.

An Israeli In Paris (Film Thoughts: Synonymes)

4807139.jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNadav Lapid’s ‘Synonymes’ is one of the weirdest, oddest movies I have seen this year. And I did not sense that from the very beginning. I did not know anything about the film upon seeing it, but something about it beckoned me. I thought for some reason that it had gay content (maybe because the lead, Tom Mercier, is very attractive, or I was attracted to him) but there wasn’t really anything explicitly gay about it, although it had a lot of homoerotic energy in it.  It’s the story of Yoav, who moves to Paris after serving in the Israeli army. (This is apparently partly based on the director’s life)  Just right after being in Paris, he loses all his worldly possessions and is helped by a couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte) who clothe him and helps him gets settled. At some point you can sense there is some ulterior motive there, but then the movie goes to a totally different direction. Lapid uses Yoav body liberally – showing us all of it, and so much of it that we get to know it as intimately as we get to know what is on Yoav’s mind. But as much as we get to know him, I found that Yoav is still a puzzle towards the end of the film – the pieces we get to know don’t really all fit, and the last part of the movie got more and more bizarre. My takeaway from the film is varied – I don’t know if I was supposed to laugh, or get annoyed. One thing is for sure, though, not a second of the film was boring.

Scary Stories From Dark Times (Film Thoughts: The Keeper/Trautmann, Past Life)

the_keeperFor me, it is interesting that after all these years, there are still very interesting stories being told about the second world war. And I myself am more into them like before – perhaps old age has done this to me. I recently saw a film from last year, ‘The Keeper,’  which is an Anglo/German co production. It tells the true story of Bert Trautmann, a British POW who became a football hero for Manchester. It is a great story, and the film, co-written and directed by Marcus H Rosenmuller, is a great watch. It shows how Trautmann overcame being a Nazi sympathizer to become a football hero. There are great performances here, anchored by David Kross’s charming portrayal of Traumtann (In some markets, that is the title of the film)  I think I gravitated towards it because of the great love story between him and Margaret, the British woman he married (played by Freya Mavor) I got caught in the story instantly, and I this in the end feels a little more than just a football romance, it gives us a lesson on humanity and love. Much recommended.

past-lifeThere was certainly a lot of thought in Avi Nesher’s ‘Past Life.’  It’s a story of a young woman who finds out secrets from her family history. For me, this is a more interesting picture than an enjoyable one –  there is too much exposition and the payoff was a little limp. Still, this has some vivid characters that you will want to know, and some good performances, especially from Joy Rieger as Sophi. I also thought the production values were well done, as this is a period piece set in 1977. It felt like so.

Israel Too (Film Thoughts: Working Woman)

large_working-woman-poster#Metoo has been going on for as long as men have been in power over women, and it is sometimes astonishing to think there aren’t a lot of these stories in film. From Israel, Michael Aviad’s ‘Working Woman’ tries to fill that void in this timely tale of workplace sexual harassment.

Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) starts working for Benny (Menashe Noy) and he shows her the ropes in real estate marketing. But he also has a different eye on her, and one night he tries to kiss her. She resists and from there we see push and pull of him exerting power over her. This film is akin to a thriller, as he tries to assert power over her, dangling money and opportunity to compensate for his bad behavior. It sometimes feel like a domestic abuse drama, like a husband beating her up, and then minutes later becomes affectionate as he asks for forgiveness. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and Aviad does a good job creating tension and suspense. Shlush’s performance is on the subtle side, and I have to admit that at times I felt like it needed more, but of course, a fully nuanced performance is better than a showy one. She is ultimately effective here, and when we see her comeuppance at the end, we are with her.

Ultimately, this film is very important in showing a story that is probably very familiar to a lot of women, and hopefully it can inspire some to speak out. As entertainment, it is horrifying and disturbing, but there’s a great payoff in the end.

Let Him Eat Cake (Film thoughts: The Cakemaker)

large_Cakemaker_PressPosterHQClosing out Pride month, I am writing about, for me,  the best ‘gay’ film since last year’s ‘Call Me By Your Name.’  Written and Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer, ‘The Cakemaker’ is one of those movies that got to me. After seeing the movie, I wanted to just get home and think about it in silence. It’s the story of a German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof, looking like a German Jonathan Groff) who falls in love with an Israeli businessman who travels monthly to Berlin. When the businessman suddenly dies in a car accident, Thomas flies to Jerusalem and gets involved in the life of the man’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler)

This is a great example of how grief ties people together. There is a lot of softness and delicacy on the film, and I was engrossed from the first frame. It speaks to me about how a connection (or disconnection) can make a lasting impact in one’s life, and the different ways we deal with grief. Thomas changes Anat’s life for he better, and while there’s a certain plot point in there that I theoretically did not believe in, thee are fine actors that I swallowed it whole. Kalkhof is fantastic here, muted and passive, yet expressing powerful emotions in a  nod and a glance, and Adler a formative match, vulnerable, determined, sympathetic. It shows us realities in modern day Israel – the dichotomy of being religious and liberal, of tradition and acceptance. By the end, I was sobbing, and I didn’t know why. Of course, I knew it was because of the sheer beauty of the film.


Can That Boy Fox Trot? (Film Thoughts: Foxtrot)

ftorI have always been fascinated with foreign films. To me, there’s something really comforting about seeing that even though human stories are flavoured with individual cultures, essentially they are all the same – they appeal to our hearts and our souls in the same exact manner. I just wrote about the brilliant Chile’s submission for the Academy,  and now I am writing about ‘Foxtrot,’ which is Israel’s submission.

Foxtrot is about a family who, in the beginning of the film, gets a knock from Isareli military, saying that their son has fallen in the line of duty up north while manning a ‘supply station.’ What that is is unclear to most people, even to the representatives of a military. The first third of the film is spent as we watch everyone mourn for the death of the young soldier. But that’s only the beginning of the film. We find in the second part that the military has made a mistake – a different young man with the same name has perished, and this family’s son is still alive. It was all a misunderstanding, sorry, boo hoo. We get to see the young soldier in action, manning a checkpoint. I will not spoil the last third of the film, as it is the most powerful part. But it has to do with the choices we make, and the guilt that we suffer from when we think we do what is best.

4416871.jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxWhile I like what the film has to say, I don’t really know if I really liked the film. It has a lot of parts that are quite moving, but I also found it painfully slow. There were times when I found myself checking the time. Could it be because I was not in such a relaxed state? I watched this after a particularly stressful week, plus this annoying woman sat next to me and she spoke with her companion throughout the film, as if she were watching the film in her living room. I think how you feel while watching a movie definitely affects how you view a film. But there’s no mistake the power of what is being said here, though, and perhaps I could do a second viewing of this and I may feel differently.