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Medurat Hashevet (2004)
submitting this as a review until synopses are unlocked (SPOILERS!)
Campfire takes place in Jerusalem in the 1980s, and tells of the Gerliks, an Orthodox family headed by young widow Rachèl (Michaela Eshet), mother of two daughters, young teenager Tami (Hani Furstenberg), a member of the Orthodox Bnèi Akìva youth movement, and Esti (Maya Marón), a few years older. Rachel insists on rebuilding her disintegrating family following the death of her husband and the girls' father. She applies for acceptance to a group founding a settlement in Samaria, but the acceptance committee does not want a single parent. The absence of a man in their lives exposes the Gerliks to ongoing threats and harassment from their own (Orthodox) community, whether in the form of pressure on Rahel from her settler friends to remarry, or in the form of vulgar taunts aimed at Tami by the neighborhood boys, culminating in a rape scene.
But first, we see Rachel coming home from a meeting of her settlement group when she hears sounds in the stairwell. She nears the source of the sounds and through a broken window, sees Esti making out with her boyfriend. Rachel smiles at the sight of her daughter evoking such desire, enters the house, and telephones Yossi (Moshe Ivgy), a suitor, and asks him to accompany her to a settler rally the following day.
In the rape scene, which takes place on Lag BeOmer, Tami who is in the initial stages of discovering her womanhood and budding sexuality reluctantly joins her friend Inbál (Dina Senderson) at the "rebels'" or bad boys' bonfire which they build at a distance from the "goody-goody" bonfire one of whom, Rafi (Oshri Cohen) Tami has a crush on. At first, they all gather around the fire and tell dirty jokes. After a few of these, Inbal wants to leave as she disapproves of the boys' behavior. She agrees to wait for Tami, who's actually enjoying herself, in a car parked nearby. As soon as Inbal is gone, Ilán (Danny Zahavi), who's on leave from the army, puts his hand on Tami's thigh. She recoils and wants to leave, but he pins her to the ground and tries to kiss her. After a few seconds, he releases her and asks her if she's alright. Frightened and crying, she gets up to leave, when Ilan seizes her from behind, twisting her arm and covering her mouth, and says to his friends, "What?! This is how you treat them (meaning women)!" Their weak protests have no effect, and they move to cheering, "Ta-mi! Ta-mi!" as Ilan forces her to touch his penis.
On a visit of the settler group to the site of their future home on a wind-whipped hilltop, one of the teenage boys corners Tami and tries to get her to confirm the rumors he's heard about what happened to her at the campfire. He tells her, "It's OK. It's natural," hinting to her what awaits her when they're both residing in the same tiny, isolated community. She replies, "What? What's natural?"
Campfire exposes the hypocrisy of the Orthodox community in the film, which denies and silences the rape. Tami tells no one what happened on Lag BeOmer, shutting herself in her room. Rachel, unsettled in the face of her daughter's silence, demands of her fellow community members to investigate what took place that night. Not only do they refuse, but hint that her daughter's behavior invited the boys' actions. Consequently, Rachel decides to leave the settlers' group.
At the end of the movie, we see Rachel, her daughters, and Yossi now her fiancé happily riding in the car that belonged to Rachel's deceased husband which had stood idle since his death symbolizing the rebirth of the familial patriarchy. Tami's rape, which remains suppressed and unspoken of, is located in the narrative of family melodrama, and its role is dual: It serves to expose and criticize the loss of values and "departure from the path" of the Orthodox community, and at the same time reaffirms the nuclear family and mends the ideological tears in the community's fabric.
Jill & Jessa Counting On (2015)
not a fan...
...although I do follow the Duggars, not out of admiration, but out of a sick fascination. Regardless, both Counting On and it's predecessor are just plain dumb: For every 30 seconds of even slightly interesting footage, you have to watch about five minutes of talking heads that add nothing of interest whatsoever.
Example: In the epi where JoyAnna and Sierra are preparing a baby shower, I was curious about Sierra, who Jessa referred to as Joy's best friend*. Sierra wasn't dressed fundy, so I was curious: Where did the two meet? Couldn't've been school, as Joy is homeschooled, and besides Sierra looks older than Joy.
But instead of giving us some background, we get Joy's brothers telling us that any suitors will get "screened" by them. Big DUH. Anyone who's been following the Duggars for five minutes already knows that; it's true of all the sisters. What we're interested in is what makes the siblings individuals.
*Their interactions were quite stilted for best friends. I saw no sign of friendship there at all.
In short, if you want to follow the Duggars, don't bother watching their shows; just type "Duggar" into the search bar: You'll get news of every sneeze and fart -- more than you ever wanted -- and you won't have to support the TLC network.
Next to Her (2014)
deserves an Oscar
I would've given Next To Her a 10, but took away one star for gratuitous sex. That aside, the acting was top notch; I actually felt myself clenching up watching this heartbreaking story unfold. I also liked that it's not Israel-specific, i.e., it could have taken place anywhere. The director and actors show us close up what it's like to care for a mentally handicapped adult day in and day out. I also like that the Hebrew title, aht li laila, translates to "You're my night", which could be a play on words with knight, i.e., Zohar is Cheli's night; and Cheli is Gaby's knight, in the rescue sense of the word. I'm not a native Hebrew speaker, so the dialog in the scene where the mom comes to visit got away from me, i.e., it wasn't clear to me why Cheli has custody of her sister, who Yaakov is, and what sum of money is being referred to. Highly recommended.
Dancing Arabs (2014)
straddling two worlds....and passing... (possible spoilers)
Wow. Not only is the script a seamless combination of Sayed Kashua's two novels (Second Person Singular and Dancing Arabs), but it's seamless in its own right. Eyad is such a sensitive character, as is Edna; both elicit our sympathy without our pity -- especially when Eyad "goes entrepreneurial" at school, capitalizing on his ability to straddle two worlds.
I also liked the acerbic wink at coexistence efforts. Riklis nailed it.
Great acting and camera work, excellent subtitling. The use of the word "previous" to illustrate Eyad's grappling with his Arab accent was spot on. I'm also gratified by the English title; "Borrowed Identity" expresses the plot line so much better than does "Dancing Arabs". Regarding the latter, I take issue with other reviewers who read symbolism into the title; in my view, it refers quite literally to Eyad's family dancing on the roof during the Scud attacks, a known occurrence. The fact that he declines to join them says it all.
The relationship between Eyad and Yonatan was also done beautifully, showing how when dealing with severe disability, identities like "Jew" and "Arab" are dwarfed by more immediate, human concerns. The film did an excellent job of showing this. Highly recommended.
Beyond the Lights (2014)
walked out before it was halfway over_spoiler
Garbage. There was no grounds for the romance between Kaz and Noni. We see why she was drawn to him -- who wouldn't be? Such a stand-up guy -- but what in the world did he he see in an overwhelmed-by-fame-and-an-overbearing-mom pop sensation?
First problem: editing. The opening scene shows a mom (Macy) watching her daughter enter a talent competition. Cut to second scene, where same mom is now managing a pop sensation. For all I knew, the child who had won 1st Runner Up in the talent contest is still a child, waiting at home for her entertainment agent mom. There is no clue that the pop sensation is the now-grown child. I still hadn't figured it out when Macy demands that Noni promise her she won't try suicide again. Give me on screen captions containing dates, years, something!
The musical numbers are embarrassingly trashy. The only interesting thing was discovering that Minnie Driver is a Brit, as I'd only seen her in one other role, Return to Me (also a waste of time), where I seem to recall she played an American. She had me fooled. She also has begun to resemble Mary Tyler Moore.
Don't waste your time.
Is That You? (2014)
I expected more from a screenplay by Eshkol Nevó
While "Is That You?" is an enjoyable road flick with a cute premise, its randomness distracted me from fully enjoying it and giving it a higher rating. It bothers me when writers give characters ethnic names / names that are obviously not of the dominant culture (Golan in this case, a distinctly Israeli name) when their backgrounds are immaterial to the plot. Doing so is just a distraction, as was the seemingly random choice of song that Roni plays at Rachel's birthday party. There having been no prior reference to or mention of this song, why was it chosen? Not a hit song from their youth (the 1970s), and certainly not a song that an Israeli is likely to know. Finally, a motel clerk declining a couple a room and then being persuaded to give them a room: Why bother putting it in? It gave us no added information; neither did it alter the plot. Superfluous. First-time screenwriters, we're watching you!
Efes beyahasei enosh (2014)
clever plot, good acting = enjoyable IDF film
How anyone could not enjoy *Efes Yachasei Enosh* is beyond me. The incomparable Dana Ivgy (Zohar) with her zinger lines and equally zing-y delivery, and the actress who portrays Irena (why is she not credited?) carry this zany, slightly dark IDF comedy.
I subtracted one star from 10 because I found it unrealistic that a shot could be fired on an IDF base and no one comes running.
Other than that, the plot is just complex enough with just enough loops to keep it moving, yet not confusing; and the characters were thoroughly differentiated, again simplifying things for the viewer.
The story treats contemporary issues such as date rape, sadistic commanders, and the plight of women soldiers assigned to unchallenging administrative jobs. I recommend Zero Motivation highly.
*By the way, I'd translate *yachasei enosh* יחסי אנוש as "people skills", but "motivation" works, as this crowd lacks both!
The Wonders (2013)
Reviewer meddleCore nails it...
...but I want to add my two *zuzim*, weighing in as an Israeli. I loved it: The dialog and plot were clever, and the stereotypes were employed to just the right degree. The balance between comedy and thriller was perfect, as was the casting...pure fun. I fell in love with both both Arnav (who wouldn't?) and the setting, which mirrored the plot in its twists, turns, and leaps over drainpipes and across alleyways. Enjoyable film, solidly recommended.
I admit that I failed to keep up with the plot's complexities, but it's to Nesher's credit that it didn't matter: Both viewers who grasp them, such as meddleCore (see review above) and viewers such as myself, who just "enjoyed the ride", will enjoy The Wonders equally. Kudos to Nesher!
Ezrah Amerikai (1992)
not just another basketball film
Saw it quite a while ago, but I do recall it being quite touching. While it's certainly about basketball, it's also quite human. I don't want to give away what makes it special, but the player's initial sense of loneliness (despite his having a girlfriend) in this strange country, where he doesn't know the language and is completely at the mercy of his coach, really comes through. It's the perfect opening for his befriending the NBA-obsessed local sports journalist and through him, his sister. It makes a nice triangle because there's little room for jealousy or possessiveness, as the siblings are loyal to each other to the end. This film will appeal to sports fans and "civilians" alike.
Orhim le-rega (2011)
I think we got us a genre here...
...we should call it Reluctant Parents, the two examples that come to mind being Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton and Big Daddy starring Adam Sandler. Thus begins Orchim leRega: Homeless father Shaul takes custody of teenage daughter Libi...in the middle of Israel's 2006 Lebanon war.
What can I say? Naively, perhaps, I really wanted Shaul's invention to catch on. Thus we would have had a clever movie whose plot takes a downer situation and unexpectedly turns it into a win-win.
Instead, just when I was sure Shaul (and the audience) would have the last laugh all the way to the bank, the two end up just where they started: Shaul is jobless, broke, and still has nowhere to live. A shame. What began as a clever twist that exploits the wartime situation just...ends.
Why in the world couldn't the screenwriter have made Libi, say, 15, not 13? That way, this miserable, lonely teen could have reaped her own happiness from the bizarre situation. And most baffling: She justifiably calls her dad a loser, yet after he humiliates her and gives up his big chance at making something of himself...she goes back to him. Why?