Monday, October 5, 2009

Overlooked: Israeli cinema

When someone says "foreign films," few locations come to mind: France, Italy, Germany, perhaps films from East Asia. These countries, no doubt, deserve their prestigious reputations in the international film community, but, in truth, they represent a mere fraction of the product produced by films from around the globe. A myriad of countries across the globe create fantastic films each year, and I'd like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on some overlooked foreign cinema.
Today's overlooked country? Israel. in the past five years, Israel has experienced something a film renaissance that reflects a more socially and politically conscious nation. Films like Waltz With Bashir, Beaufort, Lebanon, and Paradise Now (which, technically from Palestine, but was created by the same school of filmmakers) have been pushing the envelope for international cinema by crossing boundaries associated with mediums (Waltz With Bashir), experimenting with form and content (Lebanon), or approaching a controversial subject with no easy answers (Paradise Now).
All of the films mentioned above share political and thematic motivations. Waltz With Bashir and Lebanon even examine the same conflict. These recent Israeli films reflect what could be construed as growing pacifism and an increasingly harsh eye on the nation's foreign policy in the past. All of these films portray combat in one form or another, yet none play as recruitment advertisements. Waltz With Bashir profiles the effects of denial and inaction in the field of battle, Lebanon examines the psychological terror of being trapped in violent situations, Beaufort addresses the lunacy of bureaucracy in war as well as the futility of combat, and Paradise Now asks difficult questions about the possibility of peace in a world populated with fanatics.
Can this new movement be seen as a growing social unrest in one of the world's most conflict-ridden regions, or is it simply a liberal dissonance in the choral voice of the general public? While the implications of the Israeli new film movement is for the reader to decide, what's undeniable is the technical virtuosity of the films being produced. Waltz With Bashir took flash animation to new levels while making a compelling argument for animation as a medium for adults, while Lebanon displays its technical skill by taking place almost entirely inside of a tank. Even Beaufort, which has its detractors, is a taut, tense piece of film-making. Whomever is teaching these film-makers, they're doing something right.

Until this point, were you even aware that Israel made films? Have you seen any of these? What other countries come to mind when you think of foreign film? I'd like to run this as a bit of a miniseries, highlighting overlooked foreign cinema from across the globe, so sound off! If I don't hear any countries that y'all want discussed, I'll move on (maybe next week?) with South Africa, Romania, and South Korea.


  1. I did know Israel made movies, (thanks to you) but have not seen any of them. A profile on any countrie's foreign films would be cool, except for whatever country made that Triplets of Bellville movie a few years ago (France?). I would definitely be interested in South Africa and South Korea.

  2. Awww, Chuck, A) I love that your hatred for that movie can make you hate all of French cinema, and B) I love that you know that movie exists. Don't let it kill all of France for you, however. There's plenty there worth seeing. I wouldn't consider them overlooked though :) I can definitely do South Africa right now. South Korea will take a little more research (I need to dig into social issues/ more movies to get a good slant), but I'll work on it! Thanks for commenting!

  3. I loved Waltz with Bashir. I cannot even begin to explain how breathtaking (though depressing) that movie was. Not to mention the fact that I am a particular advocate for animated movies as a medium worthy of adults. People who think otherwise are, in my opinion, more immature than their children who watch cartoons. I am very glad to be hearing that you're doing a series on overlooked foreign films. May I suggest looking at some movies made in Latin-American countries? I don't know of specific countries, though. I am also interested to hear about movies from South Africa, or places in Africa in general.

  4. Hmmm...Latin America is hard, in that most of their film programs aren't big enough or well-known enough to get any distribution/recognition in America ever, which, obviously, makes it hard for me to see them. Mexico has had a really interesting film movement of late, however. I could definitely do an article on that!

  5. See "Kontroll" if you haven't already, a point for Hungary in my personal opinion.

  6. I've heard of it, but haven't seen it. I was thinking of doing a unit on Eastern European film...I'll have to add it to my watch list!