AICE Israeli Film Festival 2010

August 16, 2010

Now in its 7th year, the AICE Israeli Film Festival returns to Melbourne and Sydney to showcase a selection of the country’s past year’s achievements in filmmaking and, from what I’ve seen, it’s definitely worth clearing the time in your schedule to attend. For a country such as Israel, with such complexity and controversy informing its political climate, the anxiety over inheriting the burden of its past and assuming responsibility for its future is not only grave material for a generation of filmmakers but an impending reality for a generation. Both Phobidilia (2009) and The Loners (2009) show how pressures of this enormity can push individuals beyond breaking point.

Phobidilia: The question surrounding what it is we as individuals need from life can take more than a lifetime allows to determine. And yet, the young man telling his story in Phobidilia seems to think he already had it all; food, sex and twenty-four hour televisual entertainment; a selection of consumables he could “enjoy” without even leaving the house; “I had everything a person needs to be happy.” But moving from soap opera to internet porn is only so fulfilling. When the vivacious young Daniela appears at his door one afternoon, it slowly becomes apparent that the value of connecting with another human being has not entirely escaped him. There are however two problems that threaten to destroy his newfound happiness and connection with Daniela: 1) “Grumps”, an old man acting on behalf of his landlord and who thinks he is doing our protagonist a service in attempting to coerce and then in forcibly evicting him from the confines of his home, and 2) his own inability to know what is “real” anymore.

1) “Grumps” is a Holocaust Survivor but instead of standing in as a reminder of the horrors of the past, his role in the film is to act as the beacon for the horrors to come. “Get out before it gets worse” he tells the young man, his survival teaching him that a situation can always worsen and a statement that reinforces the contention that opting out and waiting in hiding is no way  to resolve a situation, no matter how grave it may be.

2) “When you’re alone for too long, nothing seems real.” Our protagonist has locked himself away from the “real” world, preferencing a mediated experience of it, shut off for such a time that he can no longer distinguish between the two. Answering “Bill Cosby” when asked who raised him and reeling off popular film dialogue when confronted with his phobia, our protagonist actively annihilates the Other through his passive unwillingness to acknowledge that “they” too “exist”; “I can see you on my screen but it doesn’t mean you’re real.”

But his great revelation comes: “It’s not what I saw, it’s what I didn’t see.” A generation turning their backs on the responsibilities they are to inherit – no matter how understandable – is not the appropriate course of action because in not seeing what is really there, ignoring so crucial a problem is in itself a form of political attack.

The Loners: When young naive soldier Sasha Blokhim loses his rifle under embarrassing circumstances he becomes too scared to tell the truth at his military “hearing”. Failing to admit to the crimes of foolishness and improper conduct he finds himself, along with the friend who “helped” him out of the whole mess, placed in a Northern Israeli military prison, sentenced to four years incarceration, for the somewhat more heinous crime of selling arms to Hamas. Unable to persuade officials to give them a re-trial, or even to convince their own welfare officer of their innocence, the two young men are repeatedly beaten and persecuted for their alleged betrayal. Unable to accept the shame he is now burdened with, Sasha becomes so desperate that he allows his friend Glori to once again take “control” of the situation in what is yet another foolish attempt to have themselves absolved of their treasonous crime and released from the emotional oppression they experience at the hands of their own militia, “They keep calling you traitor, you’ll start believing it.”

There is something of an inevitability to the siege they stage, and when the elder generation do intervene with force and conviction it feels truly fatalistic: as if it really couldn’t have played out any other way. Persecuted for being imperfect soldiers despite their commitment to and blind faith in the system they were defending, it is only after it is too late that the two come to realise their anomalous presence in a compulsory military service that will never truly change, “That’s the problem. It’ll always be the way you people see it.”

Phobidilia and The Loners are both highly engaging dramas that each represent an aspect of the greater contemporary political angst existing amongst a new generation of Israeli filmmakers. A far cry from the apathetic Gen X & Gen Ys of the western world, these films speak to the very real problems facing the future of a conflicted nation.

The AICE Israeli Film Festival takes place in Melbourne 17-22 August at Palace Cinemas Como & Brighton Bay, and in Sydney August 31-5 September at the Palace Verona Cinema.

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